January 6, 2014, 2:50 PM

Web design through a mobile lens

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QVC also is determined to cater to its core customer, whether she is watching a shopping show on her iPad, shopping on her smartphone from the sidelines of her daughter's soccer game, or viewing QVC.com on a computer. Designing for the mobile shopper is crucial for QVC, which saw 32.7% of its sales in its fiscal third quarter ended Oct. 31 come from mobile phones and tablets, compared to 23.8% a year earlier.

Sprinkle says QVC—which focuses on Apple Inc. mobile devices because that's where most of its traffic comes from—has been updating its iPad and iPhone apps to ensure they meet its customers' needs. For example the iPad app makes it easy for customers to interact with QVC's popular "In the Kitchen with David" cooking show. Consumers can use the app to send chat messages that David Venable and co-host Mary DeAngelis respond to on-air, participate in polls and share recipes. "We're taking information coming in through chat and responding live on the air," Sprinkle says. "It's a very immersive experience."

QVC is also responding to its growing mobile audience by starting to rework its e-commerce site using responsive design principles. The retailer began with the final stages of the purchase process—the shopping cart and checkout pages—and the My Account page. Those are being redesigned using responsive principles so that they adapt to the screen the consumer is using.

QVC started there because there are fewer choices at the end of the checkout funnel than there are at the beginning, Sprinkle says. Earlier in a shopping trip, QVC.com presents the shopper with many more options of how to shop, and that, Sprinkle says, is forcing the retailer to think about what each page must present, and what can be left out to pare down the page for mobile consumers. "You can't feature every single piece of content as you can on a desktop site because you're dealing with less real estate," he says. "It requires a new way of thinking, letting go of some long-held beliefs." That thought process is underway, he says, and within a year QVC expects its site to be fully responsive, "from the home page through checkout."

As retailers like QVC plan a move to responsive sites, they will no doubt be looking to learn from some of the responsive pioneers speaking at the February conferences in Orlando.

Among them will be Michael Layne, director of Internet marketing at Fathead LLC, which relaunched its site using responsive principles in November 2012. The web-only retailer designed each page so that it could be viewed in one to five columns—one for smartphones, two for smaller tablets, three for larger tablets and some PCs, all the way up to five columns for the widest desktop monitors. The page adapts to the viewer's screen size.

The results, Layne says, vary dramatically based on the screen: Consumers shopping on wide monitors convert more than six times better than those on smartphones, but the two-column view that many iPad shoppers see produces the highest average order value.

Fathead sends all the versions to the consumer's browser, which picks the right one. That allows the consumer to shift quickly from the two-column to three-column view if, for example, she turns her tablet from the vertical portrait orientation to the horizontal landscape mode. Layne is aware that sending all the data for five possible views could make the site load slowly. "We do our best to keep the HTML pretty simple and well laid out so it doesn't hinder page load time," he says.

Other retailers, however, have chosen a variation they call "adaptive design" in which the retailer's server recognizes the size of the shopper's screen and only sends the versions appropriate for that device. That's the approach taken by Jewelry Warehouse Inc. for its GarnetAndBlackTraditions.com e-commerce site that sells merchandise tied to the University of South Carolina.

The advantage is speed, says Soumen Das, CEO of UniteU Technologies Inc., which developed the e-commerce site. The version for a smartphone requires transmitting less than a quarter of the data of the desktop site, and that version downloads five times faster than it would if the server sent data for all the versions, says Das, who will speak at the mobile conference with Chris Boomhower, director of e-commerce at Jewelry Warehouse. "The idea is to get speed," Das says. "For e-commerce, that's very important."

But there's an added trick: the retailer downloads two versions to a smartphone or tablet. That way if a consumer turns her tablet from the vertical portrait mode to the horizontal landscape display, she still sees an appealing version of the site, without the delay that would be introduced if a server had to send a new version to her device.

It's just one example of how mobile experts are fine-tuning responsive design. Putting retail web designers and mobile commerce experts in one place in February is sure to spark new ideas on how to address the many challenges of site design in the mobile era.



Two conferences, one ticket

Two e-commerce shows that previously took place at different times and in different places are being combined this year in IRCE Focus: Web Design + Mobile Commerce, set for Orlando, Fla., Feb. 10-12.

"By bringing together the Web Design & Usability and the Mobile Commerce conferences into one event, we're aligning two of the hottest and most important topics in e-commerce–and delivering an incredible educational value for retailers and e-commerce professionals," says Craig Dooley, senior vice president and group show director for IR Events Group, a division of GLM that is organizing the Orlando conferences. Emerald Expositions Inc. announced plans to acquire GLM in December. The deal is expected to close later this month.

Anyone who registers for either conference will be able to attend sessions from both, and to visit the shared exhibit hall.

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