Is Responsive Web Design Right for Retailers? A User Experience Perspective.

by / Thursday, 23 May 2013 / Published in Interaction Design, Social Shopping, Strategy, Usability, User Experience
Last week we asked “Is Responsive Web Design Right for Retailers?” and you responded. Our interview with Steve Reighgut, Fluid’s Director of Engineering, struck a cord with readers and retailers. Right on.

So we continue the RWD conversation with Abigail Hart Gray, Fluid’s V.P. of User Experience. Fluid’s UX team is at the forefront of designing in digital to meet and exceed consumer needs. RWD gives them a new palette with which to play.

My top three take-aways:

1. In-the-moment needs matter: Decisions about RWD should come down to whether customers have expectations of your brand that differ by device.

2. RWD is mobile’s best friend: In Abigail’s words, “Mobile is the final frontier of shit usability. RWD is a panacea for this almost universal issue.” (Seriously why would I say that any differently?)

3. RWD can increase mobile conversion rates: The notion that consumers aren’t willing to convert on mobile is outdated. It’s blaming users for a usability issue – that RWD can help solve.

Now on to the interview…

[Amy] What is Responsive Web Design?

[Abigail] In its most pure definition it is a device agnostic way to manage your website with a single code base that works across any screen resolution.

RWD detects device resolution and then adjusts content layout and interactive feature differences based on the screen real estate of the device being accessed.

[Amy] What’s the best thing about it?

[Abigail] RWD requires much less maintenance cost and ensures device appropriate experiences without having to worry about adjusting for new devices that hit the market – which we know happens every day. The experience is always going to look good.

[Amy] What’s the biggest challenge of RWD?

[Abigail] If you’re going from non-Responsive to RWD there is a significant upfront investment compared to most device specific solutions. The pay-off is there but it comes later. The pay-off comes in easier maintenance and a lower likelihood of human error when making changes.

I’d tell those who fear the investment to look at the current costs of maintaining your existing separate experiences. That’s usually where you’ll find the money.

[Amy] What’s the #1 thing brands considering RWD should be asking?

[Abigail] The best litmus test for whether Responsive Design is a good option is to ask: Do your consumers expect different things from your brand on mobile vs. tablet vs. PC?

If the answer is no then Responsive Design is a good option. If consumers expect the same thing from you across devices then RWD can make the experience easy, appropriate and usable on any device.

Some brands, especially services, are going to answer yes. Device needs differ. Responsive works in this scenario as well but as part of a hybrid solution. Tablet and desktop could be Responsive but not mobile.

[Amy] What’s an example of a brand whose consumers have different needs by device?

[Abigail] AAA is a good one. Their consumers have significantly different needs by device. On desktop and tablet people may be exploring membership, looking at services offered or determining what maps to get in a AAA office. On mobile, they need a tow. That need is urgent. The other info just gets in the way.

[Amy] Can RWD create a device specific experience?

[Abigail] Yes. RWD is not just about a solution that scales between devices. But it’s an evolution, not a revolution. If you want radically different experiences by device RWD is probably not the best answer.

[Amy] Talk about the RWD decision when it comes to digital commerce.

[Abigail] The RWD opportunity for digital commerce is mobile. Ecommerce sites, branded manufacturers and etailers often don’t need something unique in mobile. Consumers are in-store, want to learn more and use mobile for snacks of information.

But as mobile traffic increases, conversion to sale from mobile is crashing and burning. It’s not because consumers are only using mobile to research. It’s an issue of mobile usability.

With RWD this mobile usability issue gets fixed – all the way through to check out. This drives a direct financial benefit.

[Amy] Why did our conversation shift from RWD to mobile?

[Abigail] Because mobile is the final frontier of shit usability. RWD is a panacea for this almost universal issue.

[Amy] Ha. Say more about that.

[Abigail] Mobile traffic is more highly qualified than ever before. This qualified traffic should be generating more money. The only reason why conversion rates on mobile aren’t higher is because of usability issues.

People say users don’t convert on mobile. We can’t blame users for lack of mobile conversion. It’s on us to make the experience better.

Our industry excels at websites. We know what works on websites. We as an industry aren’t there yet on mobile. We need to better understand mobile users and better learn from the analytics.

[Amy] So showrooming via mobile isn’t why conversion is so low?

[Abigail] Showrooming may be contributing but it’s not the only factor. Gucci redid their mobile experience and conversion increased by over 70%. That’s about the design – not the users.

The pay-off for fixing mobile is big. This is not about the quality of the traffic. It’s about the quality of the experience.

[Amy] Why aren’t more brands thinking of it this way?

[Abigail] There’s a misperception that consumers don’t go on mobile to buy. We as an industry are invested in this. And it’s not true.

Mass market, and high end, brands are talking about seamless experiences across devices. We’re all talking omni-channel. Consumers are just doing it. Why would this behavior exclude their desire to purchase?

We all need to catch up to where there users already are – rather than writing off their behavior due to an outdated notion of how mobile is being used.

[Amy] So what’s the best way to approach mobile?

[Abigail] The same way RWD should be approached. Ask whether your customers have different needs when they’re on the go with mobile vs. on a computer. If the needs don’t differ by much, RWD is a solution that solves for mobile as much as it solves for desktop.

[Amy] What if a brand doesn’t know if user needs differ by device?

[Abigail] The best thing to do is primary research. Not one client has ever said this wasn’t worth the money. We always learn something new.

If you have data ask: Are the most commonly clicked items on the web the same as on tablet and on mobile? Do you have any location-specific services you offer that people need on-the-go? If you answer yes to #1 and no to #2, RWD may be the best thing ever for you.

[Amy] What is the biggest opportunity for mobile?

[Abigail] Mobile gives us the chance to make good on the promise of being anywhere, everywhere, anytime for customers.

At a tactical level, fixing mobile usability issues directly translates to dollars.

[Amy] Does RWD start with mobile?

[Abigail] I think you have to oscillate back and forth between the two. Not doing so could miss out on opportunities. To be stellar at this takes a mind that can be in two spaces at once. It’s the extremes of screen resolution at the same time as considerations of content needs.

[Amy] Will we be talking about RWD next year? Is it here to stay?

[Abigail] Yes. But it won’t feel as foreign. It will be a different kind of conversation. Next year we’ll be talking about some other new and weird and exotic and fun technology. Luckily, this is not the last opportunity we’ll have to talk about something new and weird in digital.

Thank you to Abigail. What a fun conversation.

Until next time,