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If the site is merely unattractive with Firefox, you will have a few months to correct the issues, because its users have some expectation that sites will display differently. But Internet retailers set a high standard, and by the end of 2005, most major retailers will have dealt with these problems and tolerance will decrease. Firefox users will lose some amount of respect for your brand, and eventually your site will give the appearance of an outmoded or low-budget design.
Repairing Firefox-related site problems is a tactical issue that can be addressed by comparing the impact of each category of problem with its cost to remedy. These repairs can typically be phased in over time, making the workload easier to absorb and improving the site as the Firefox adoption numbers increase and tolerance for incompatibility goes down.
The rapid adoption of Firefox raises a strategic issue as well, and now may be a good time for shopping sites to re-visit their site design. Looking five to ten years out, most observers predict that the Explorer market share will continue to decline. This is not only because of Firefox, but also because shoppers are increasingly accessing the web through alternative devices, including cellular phones and mobile personal information managers. There is a good chance that new mobile devices will use derivatives of Firefox as their browsers, since the software is open source and can be customized to work well with any device.
Finally, the most successful online shopping sites have demonstrated that simple and functional is more important than flashy and fancy. Using least-common denominator browser features makes your site function properly with the increasing variety of browser software. At the same time, it makes the site easier for your staff to maintain and more effective at converting and retaining online customers.
David Jilk is CEO of web site performance analysis company Xaffire Inc. He also independently advises startup firms and has provided technology due-diligence for investors and acquirers. He can be reached at email@example.com.