Responsive and Adaptive in an Ecommerce World

There has been much debate recently around responsive design and ecommerce. Still much of the ecommerce world is working in the fixed width column because page load time is king and has the most visible relationship to conversion. Many of us UXers working in ecom have seen the study published by Walmart that shows for every second reduction in response time, there is 2% increase in conversion. This study is one weapon in our toolkit to pull out while arguing with our creative department when they are delivering images 200k larger than necessary with effective compression techniques. It is also an effective counter to their argument that the loss of definition in the dark background will decrease the quality of their photography. We also know that responsive sites are slow due to bloated image sizes due to client side scaling. Unfortunately Adobe Scene 7, the image server of choice, doesn't seem to have a good way to serve images in a truly responsive manner. This has required every IT department to develop their own expensive solution for this. Let's be honest, it is hard to justify to our business that an investment of precious resources is a good idea, when all the studies say it does not increase sales or conversion... Where's the ROI.

So why am I writing this when most of the industry has decided to ignore responsive? As a UX architect, it is my obligation to approach all problems from the perspective of my users. Our users, or customers, will visit our sites on many different devices with many different screen sizes. We know this already, so why are we still pretending that there are just two? We must start convincing our business partners to invest in responsive style architecture so we can take maximum advantage of the screen real estate. But at this time, I don't necessarily think responsive has to be your mobile and mobility strategy. Let me explain...

First, we must consider our users and how they use their devices. Remember, I am looking at this from an ecommerce perspective. What are the use cases? What are the scenario's under which our users shop on mobile devices? Are they the same reasons as the desktop site? The more research and interaction I have with our users, the more I discover that the needs vary greatly. So should we deliver the same presentation as the desktop? 

Clearly the use cases and the needs of mobile shopper are quite different, especially in the gifting segment. There is the oops shopper who forgot an occasion, and just needs to get something out in time. There is the commuter shopper, who is handling their purchasing while riding a bus or train into work. Then there is the shopper at home who has a mobile device right there, and they just don't want to boot up their computer. So adaptive strategy may seem better for these use cases.

Knowing that mobile shoppers have these differences, adaptive sites may be better due to the differing merchandising strategies. That doesn't mean we shouldn't design with Responsive concepts. If we move forward with the responsive design and development concepts, then the structure and layout of our sites will remain consistent across multiple devices. In addition, we will be able to maximize utilization for both large and small format screens. Finally, with the differing screen sizes and resolution of mobile phones, we no longer have the luxury to assume the mobile port size is 320. Therefore a scalable and future proof matrix is the most effective way to standardize our mobility strategy. It will ensure confidence in our customers ensuring that our mobile site, often their first touch point, and our desktop site will play well end effectively together in a multi-port, multi-device session economy.