February 10, 2014, 11:12 AM

Big changes in shopper behavior drive rethinking of mobile design

A bare-bones mobile site may be fast, but not compelling enough to drive conversion. Decide what is most important and make that your mobile priority, say speakers today at a mobile commerce conference.

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Online retailers and marketers are reconsidering the common wisdom when it comes to mobile web design as they see how consumers are changing the ways they shop via smartphones and tablets. That became clear from two presentations at the IRCE Focus: Web Design + Mobile Commerce show that kicked off today in Orlando.

In his lead-off talk at a workshop on mobile commerce, Restaurant.com president and chief marketing officer Christopher Krohn explained that consumers are opening 55% of the coupon site’s e-mails on mobile devices. That’s led Restaurant.com to design e-mails primarily for mobile devices, and to assign one staffer exclusively to that mobile-focused task.

The session that followed featured Braden Hoeppner, vice president of web sales at Coastal Contacts, a web-only retailer of eyeglasses and contact lenses. He said he’s learned that it’s not necessary to put all the information a mobile shopper needs on a single screen, as consumers increasingly are using their phones and tablets at home, often with fast Wi-Fi connections. As a result, they often don’t mind clicking to a second screen for additional content. “If you’re site is fast, people don’t care about clicking,” he said.

Hoeppner showed an example of how that’s influenced Coastal Contacts’ mobile design thinking. An early version of its mobile web site presented a long list of specific options, but each selection was so small that it would be easy for a shopper to tap the wrong one. The newer version provides broader options, such as eyeglasses and contact lenses, and shoppers click to the next page to see choices within those categories.

The main thing is to consider what the consumer is trying to do on each page, Krohn said. For example, he showed a mobile page that displays a restaurant and the deals it’s offering after the consumer has filtered through options such as location, price, ratings and cuisine. The page he arrives on is deliberately limited in what it shows. “They’re already inclined to purchase,” he said. “Because they’re at that point in the use case process, I don’t want to distract them with more information.”

By contract, Coastal Contacts’ mobile product detail page now has more information, including product images, than it had before, Hoeppner said. “We have video on product pages if you want it,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of putting that stuff on mobile.” Some consumers will want the added content because they’re looking at their mobile devices at home on their couches, where Hoeppner says he typically uses his mobile devices. “It’s not actually mobile,” he said. “We should call it a small screen.”

Responsive web design came up in both presentations. This is a technique that employs a single set of software code for all devices, adjusting what the shopper sees based on the size of the screen she’s viewing.

Designing that way has the advantage of only requiring maintenance of a single site, instead of separate sites for desktops, tablets and smartphones. It’s more difficult to do, and harder to get each page right than when designing separate sites, Krohn said, but still offers enough advantages that it’s growing in popularity.

It also requires redesigning the desktop and mobile sites, which he said he’s not ready to do for Restaurant.com. “If I had a huge budget and a large mobile audience and was starting from scratch, I would probably go with responsive design,” he said. “But I probably won’t bite that bullet in the next six months, and past that you can’t predict because mobile moves too fast.”

Coastal Contacts employs a technique called adaptive design, in which the retailer’s server detects the device the consumer is using and only sends down the elements the retailer wants to show on that screen. Compared with responsive design, adaptive design has the advantage of sending less data to the device—thus increasing download speed, allows for more easily designing pages for specific devices, and does not require any changes to the desktop site, said Ben Terrill, vice president of customer success at Mobify, who spoke with Hoeppner. Mobify provides the mobile technology Coastal Contacts uses for its mobile sites.

Terrill noted there are pros and cons to responsive and adaptive design, and to the variants of both techniques that are emerging. Mobify, he says, recommends using the technique that works best for each task. For example, Terrill says responsive design is good for pages that display a lot of content. But for a page, such as a checkout page, where getting the layout precisely right on each device is important, adaptive is the better approach, he said.

All three speakers in the back-to-back sessions agreed on the growing importance of mobile technology. With that in mind, Krohn encouraged audience members to educate their colleagues about the importance of mobile, so that they can get the resources they need to serve mobile shoppers.

“Mobile is inevitable,” he said. “It’s the future of everyone’s business. It’s the present of my business, but it’s the future of everyone’s business.”


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