February 10, 2014, 3:34 PM

Customers point the way to winning site design

The decision to embrace responsive as opposed to traditional web design begins with knowing how customers shop and why, say two speakers at the IRCE Focus: Web Design + Mobile Commerce conference.

Lead Photo

Should an online retailer adopt responsive design for all devices or continue to design individually for personal computers, tablets and smartphones? The answer depends on a company’s goals and customer expectations.

These are among the key conclusions Darren Johnson, director of e-commerce at Lovesac Furniture Co., and Mike Pitone, senior manager for product management and user experience at Urban Outfitters Inc., delivered this morning at IRCE Focus: Web Design + Mobile Commerce show in Orlando.

Speaking at a session entitled “Pick your path: Device agnostic vs. device specific,” Johnson says Lovesac’s responsive design philosophy is grounded in its business goals and desire for consistency in its interactions with furniture shoppers across devices. “We try to look at this through the lens of the customer journey,” Johnston says. Responsive design 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.

Lovesac’s approach to responsive web design stems in part from how consumers prefer to research, possibly finance and ultimately buy its core product, a configurable brand of modular furniture known as “sactionals.” Prices start at about $500. Johnson says many furniture shoppers will research their purchase at Lovesac.com and then buy a “sactional” in one of Lovesac’s roughly 50 stores. And many are visiting the retailer’s e-commerce site via mobile devices.   About 52% of all traffic to Lovesac.com now comes from a mobile device, and “sactional’ purchases made on iPads and iPhones totaled $1.5 million in 2013. That underscores the importance of presenting web content in an appealing to consumers on mobile devices, which is what’s driving many retailers toward responsive design. “We use responsive design to drive engagement and repeat purchasing behavior,” Johnson says.

The key to effective responsive design, he says, is to make content efficient and compelling across all devices. “Responsive design is all about creating an eco-system of efficiency,” Johnson says. Lovesac, which generates from the web about 20%, or $10 million, of annual sales of $50 million, also takes a cautious approach to new design initiatives such as responsive design. “There is always going to be new technology and techniques, so we want to beware of seeing responsive design as just another shiny new toy,” he says.

At Urban Outfitters, Pitone says about 40% of all site traffic now comes from mobile devices. But what guides Urban Outfitters in site design for different devices is based on a deep look at customer behavior and other metrics. “The customer path has changed and it’s no longer linear,” Pitone says. While not releasing any metrics, Urban Outfitters is spending a lot of time on tablet design. “It’s a big, big deal,” he says.

The key to designing effectively for PCs, tablets and smartphones is content, Pitone says. “No matter the device the content has to be sustainable, compelling and accessible,” he says.

To ensure it is, Urban Outfitters studies how each of the major browsers renders web content. Testing and selecting the right font and seeing how a particular typeface looks across pages on multiple devices also can help ensure a successful design from the user point of view, he says.

Urban Outfitters also is beginning to use the shopping cart page as a laboratory for possible design changes or new features. “The shopping cart has its own world of interactions and transactions,” Pitone says. “It’s a good place to test new code to make sure it works.” Urban Outfitters is not yet using responsive design.



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