July 31, 2014, 2:50 PM

Mobile sites better than responsive design for shopping

Dedicated mobile commerce sites for smartphones and tablets and mobile apps are unparalleled in providing a great user experience, which is the most critical element in converting mobile shoppers into buyers.

Retailers that have adopted responsive web design to serve customers on desktops, tablets and smartphones with a single site may be pennywise and pound foolish. Dedicated mobile commerce sites for smartphones and tablets and mobile apps are unparalleled in providing a great user experience, which is the most critical element in converting mobile shoppers into buyers.

Responsive design was always a compromise, from the beginning. It was born when web publishers realized that web sites had to also look good on mobile devices for their content to be consumed.

While design is the most critical element for content consumption, the overall user experience (of which design is only a part) is the most critical element for mobile shopper purchase behavior, with conversion rate being the single most important metric.

What defines mobile user experience?

  • Discoverability: How easy is it to find your site on a mobile device?
  • First impression: How relevant is your landing page for the user, given the context in which she is visiting your site?
  • Engagement: How easy is it for your user to navigate your site and find what she wants?
  • Exit: How quickly can the user get what they want and move on with their life?

On mobile devices, responsive design sites are better than traditional desktop sites in all four factors of mobile user experience. But responsive design sites are not as good as dedicated m-commerce sites in those four factors.

Mobile users are impatient and demanding. 40% of customers abandon a web site that takes more than 3 seconds to load, according to analytics firm Kissmetrics. Worse, 79% of those shoppers do not return to a site once they have had a bad experience, Kissmetrics says. Responsive design, with its usually long page load times, does not adequately address these impatient mobile users. To reiterate, responsive design is good for content consumption but not for purchase behavior.

So why are online retailers using responsive design? Because of the marketing zeitgeist of the last couple of years and, primarily, because responsive design is not as resource-intensive as building separate sites. Reasons retailers choose responsive design over building dedicated mobile sites include:

  • COPE (Create Once Publish Everywhere): Online retailers do not have to manage their catalogs and users on multiple sites. They just manage a single site.
  • Cost: Needless to say, it costs a lot of money to develop smartphone and tablet sites, whether in-house or through a vendor. Add to that the effort and time it takes to figure out the nuances of a dedicated mobile site such as layouts and calls-to-action and it demands bandwidth many retailers simply cannot afford.
  • Optimization: Even if they invested in a standalone mobile commerce site, they perceive it to be a white elephant to maintain. A lot of time and money needs to be invested in testing different layouts, navigation menus and checkout processes to nail down the most optimal mobile site.

But many retailers are choosing the conventional method of mobile commerce: building separate sites. Why? With responsive design, the danger of poor page load times, sub-optimal design and complicated checkout processes is low conversion rates. Some retailers with dedicated mobile sites see a 100% return on investment within the first month, according to internal research at MartMobi. This is boosted further over time with continued increases in conversion rate.

The aforementioned four factors that define mobile user experience are better served by dedicated mobile sites:

  • Discoverability: While it is largely believed that Google prefers responsive design sites over mobile sites, that is not true. Google supports the best user experience, and that definitely includes dedicated mobile sites.
  • First impression: Once you understand the context of your user (location, weather, proximity to store, etc.) you should be able to tailor your landing page to their needs. This typically does not work with responsive design because it is built centered on the desktop, where context is not established.
  • Engagement: No matter how responsive the design is, it cannot match the fine-tuning of a mobile site with adaptive content delivery that will tailor content to each and every device.
  • Exit: The fewer clicks it takes to checkout, the higher the conversion rate. Mobile sites with their mobile-optimized payment processes, one-click checkout and other such features enable a shopper to quickly get what they want.

With newer mobile commerce technology platforms, online retailers do not need to worry as much about resources when it comes to building separate mobile commerce sites. The platforms enable a strategy where you publish only once to your e-commerce site and changes are deployed to your mobile sites as well. Mobile commerce platforms built via software-as-a-service are very inexpensive. For example, platforms pricing monthly plans range from $49 to $299, which is insignificant in comparison to the spike in sales created by increases in mobile conversion.

Further, there are “no coding required” platforms, which means you don’t need to hire a developer. The platform providers take care of updating the technology (for example, making it work on a newer version of iOS), device compatibility, browser compatibility and so on. Also, mobile commerce platform providers invest a lot of time and money in understanding the nuances of the consumer buying experience and optimizing their site templates based on these insights. So online retailers do not have to reinvent the wheel and go through the entire process themselves.

Beyond all these factors is the factor of speed. Speed is the single most important factor in the mobile user experience because without speed, all the other bells and whistles fail. Keynote, a mobile and web performance monitoring company, states that a page loading on a 3G network needs to be five times lighter than the same page on a 4G LTE network.

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