Is Responsive Overhyped?

Responsive Web Design is all the rage.  We hear advocates asserting that “responsive is the way to develop sites.”  Or “Google recommends responsive for SEO.”

Observers might think that this approach has become the de facto standard among e-commerce leaders.  But a close look at the top companies in the Internet Retailer rankings, reveals a surprising reality:

Responsive Adoption among Top Retailers March'15

Among these top 16 retailers, only 2 have gone with responsive, despite obviously having the resources to do so if they wished.

What’s the disconnect here?  Why hasn’t this hot-trending technique taken hold among the industry leaders?  Are we confusing mobile-friendly as mobile-optimized?

Pros & Cons Summary

The table below summarizes key advantages and disadvantages of responsive and dedicates approaches to mobile.

Reponsive Dedicated
Advantages
  • Satisfies Google’s mobile-friendly requirement
  • Only 1 site to maintain leads to low cost of ownership
  • Mobile experience is not tethered to desktop experience
  • More cost-effective if you want to maintain mobile as distinct experience
Disadvantages
  • Slow performance
  • Higher one-time cost
  • Disruptive to desktop site
  • Two sites to maintain

What Is Responsive Web Design?

We can answer this from 3 vantage points:

  • Technical:  responsive is the use of a media query in a website’s HTML, giving formatting instructions to the browser, instructing the browser how to reformat the page to fit the width of the screen.
  • Design:  a design approach that allows different device types to be served by a single set of HTML pages.
  • Strategy:  an approach of “one site fits all” for handling different types of devices.

Responsive Technique

Another way of looking at responsive is how Google positions responsive alongside the 2 other recommended approaches to mobile:

  • Responsive web design: Serves the same HTML code on the same URL regardless of the users’ device (desktop, tablet, mobile, non-visual browser), but can render the display differently (i.e., “respond”) based on the screen size.  Responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern.[1]
  • Dynamic serving [aka Adaptive]: Uses the same URL regardless of device, but generates a different version of HTML for different device types based on what the server knows about the user’s browser.
  • Separate URLs [aka Dedicated]: Serves different code to each device, and on separate URLs. This configuration tries to detect the users’ device, then redirects to the appropriate page using HTTP redirects] along with the Vary HTTP header.

[1] Google goes on to say:  Google does not favor any particular URL format as long as the page(s) and all page assets are accessible to all Googlebot user-agents.

Responsive Strengths

Responsive is an elegant solution for handling small screen sizes.  By reprogramming the desktop site’s HTML and redesigning the layout, site owners can deliver pages that know how to adjust for screen size via a media query, that lets the html respond to the browser’s screen width.

Responsive meets the standards Google has set for being mobile-friendly.  Responsive sites, properly done, will be saved from Google’s Mobilegeddon.

And because of the “one-site-fits-all” approach, there are fewer content elements to control and therefore fewer management tasks.  Responsive advocates say this leads to a lower cost of ownership.

Responsive Weaknesses

Responsive has one glaring problem:  slow pageload speeds.  A responsive page works by delivering more content to the smartphone, and then asking the mobile browser to sort things out based on its screen width.  This performance gap was reported by Internet Retailer:

It turns out responsive design sites are slow on smartphones, very slow. That’s the conclusion that emerges from an Internet Retailer-exclusive, monthlong study of 12 e-retail responsive design sites conducted by web and mobile performance testing, monitoring and analytics firm Keynote.

A secondary weakness is that deploying responsive is complex and can be disruptive to the main website.  As a result, responsive deployments tend to be more expensive than dedicated projects.

Dedicated Strengths

Dedicated is the better choice when a retailer actually wants to have the mobile experience different than the desktop experience.  The “one-site-fits-all” advocates might ask why you’d ever want to deliver different experiences. There are several compelling reasons because – as we all know – mobile is so much more than just a small screen:

  • Mobile UI Capabilities – Mobile brings enhanced capabilities for interaction – such as location, touch, voice, camera, fingerprint, motion. All can add richness to the mobile experience.  Today’s desktop site does not support these capabilities, nor does it need to.
  • Different User Circumstances – Consumers have their phones in many places and settings that the desktop site needn’t worry about:  in stores; on sports fields, or in the garage, where the retailer’s product is being used; or in social settings.  Most retailers can find new advantages here.
  • Different Desired Outcomes – Because of its omni-presence, mobile is the ideal omni-channel device.  We know consumers use mobile for product discovery & research, even when they complete the purchase in a different channel – online, in store or call center.  Why wouldn’t the mobile UI help facilitate this in a way that’s different than the desktop?  Different calls-to-action; different ways to prioritize them.

Dedicated Weaknesses

The conventional wisdom is that a dedicated site is something else to manage, that it represents additional cost of ownership.  The counter view is that dedicated is a more cost-effective way to manage your mobile customers.

In addition, it is often asserted that Google will give advantage to responsive sites.  But, as discussed in the What Is Responsive section above, Google states that it does not favor responsive over dedicated.

Perspective

  1. Responsive is a good choice for adapting a desktop site for the small screen.
    As a web development technique, it’s an elegant way to deliver a small screen experience.
  2. Dedicated sites are the better choice if the retailer wants the mobile experience to take full advantage of uniquely mobile capabilities.
    For retailers who want to get the most out of mobile, dedicated sites make it easier to build a mobile-specific experience — one that takes advantage of unique mobile capabilities that the desktop site isn’t geared for.  And to deliver different calls-to-action that optimize across all channels.

Responsive is a very useful technique for adjusting web pages to screen size.  Developers love it as a tool.  Unbound uses it as one of several methods for integrating the mobile experience into the retailer’s web infrastructure.

But that doesn’t make it a good mobile strategy.

If mobile-friendly is good enough for your company, then responsive is a fine choice.  A better choice for your company might be to take full advantage of mobile-unique capabilities and deliver a distinct mobile experience.  Unbound loves working with retailers who want to make the most out of mobile.

 

Keith Lietzke is Co-Founder of Unbound Commerce.  He can be reached at Keith@UnboundCommerce.com.

Third Quarter Mobile Commerce Sales Surge 102%

A Broad Index of 350+ Retailers on the Unbound Commerce Platform Saw Quarterly Year-Over-Year Mobile Commerce Revenues Jump Dramatically

Third quarter mobile commerce revenue generated from dedicated mobile commerce sites built and deployed by leading solution provider Unbound Commerce jumped 101.77%, for a same-store index of 350+ retailers, as compared to the same period in 2013.

Interestingly the number of unique users grew 39.33% during this same period, indicating that consumers are returning to mobile sites and buying more each visit, in a shorter amount of time.

Also telling is the fact that the average time spent on a mobile commerce site was down 13.97% in this period, from 2:53 to 2:28 minutes. While the pages viewed per session remained nearly constant at an average of 5.81. Again, more sales are being generated in a more efficient manner.

Another indication of the improved efficiency of the mobile commerce experience can be seen in the fact that the total, aggregate pageviews rendered in Q3 was up, but only about half as much as sales revenues, at 50.05%.

New friction-reducing UI enhancements from Unbound include the repositioning of “Buy Now” buttons on many sites and slide-open menus that allow users to select product details at the top of the screen, rather than wade through descriptive information. Taking an analytics-based approach to mobile design is paying big dividends for Unbound’s retail partners.

Retailers including Monster Cables are also increasingly using product-specific mobile-only landing pages to drive sales, which boost conversion rates significantly.

Bounce rates dropped again this quarter, over last year, by just under 5%, showing that users are more comfortable with the mobile experience. Unlike a responsive “resized” site, the Unbound solution allows mobile-specific content to drive mobile-specific sales. On average, Unbound’s dedicated mobile site page load times outperform transcoded “screen scraped” sites by up to 3X and responsive sites by up to 6X.

Mobile commerce revenue is the big number, but other metrics also showed impressive increases in the third quarter. The average order value was up 32.03% to $112.08, versus $84.89 for the same period in 2013.

“Mobile is on an absolute tear and our retailers are taking advantage”, said Wilson Kerr Unbound’s VP Business Development & Sales. “As the focus shifts from “build us a best in class dedicated mobile site” to “help us drive even more sales”, we are able to help them locate and remove friction points, to tweak the UI and lift conversion rates. Our 350+ retailers are poised to smash records for sales and conversion rates this Holiday season. All the negative feedback we are hearing about responsive web design performance certainly does not hurt our sales efforts”, he added.

Staggering Mobile Commerce Growth Reported For 2014

MCommerceRise

Wow. Check out the following mobile commerce statistics, as reported in an article published by Nextopia‘s Colin Withers on August 21, 2014:

“Mobile shopping isn’t just the future—it’s the present. A recent article over at Internet Retailer profiled the growth of mobile sales among their Internet Retailer Mobile 500 list, and the numbers are truly astounding.

Mobile sales are set to hit $83.78 billion in the Mobile 500 alone, up a staggering 80% from the 2013 figure of $46.56 billion.

The growth isn’t just limited to U.S. retailers alone either, as the Mobile 500 includes retailers from the United Kingdom, China, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, and 16 other countries. In addition, the report stated that mobile sales will account for 21.1% of the roughly $394.71 billion in total web sales amongst the Mobile 500, with tablets accounting for 59% of mobile sales and phones making up the remaining 41%.

So, what do these numbers mean for you? They indicate that if your current eCommerce site doesn’t fully support mobile shopping, you’re going to miss out on an exponentially-growing market segment.

As more and more shoppers turn to their tablets and phones for their shopping needs, it’s imperative that internet retailers deliver the same level of performance and ease-of-use on mobile devices as they do on their web stores.

 

At Unbound Commerce, we agree 100% and are offer dedicated mobile solutions for retailers who want more than just a “shrunken version” of their main site, resized for mobile.

Mobile consumers behave differently – when is the last time you saw someone walking into your retail store with a laptop in their back pocket? Mobile deserves to be treated as it’s own (rapidly growing) element of the omnichannel shopping experience.

Here is a related quote from the same IR article, “Mobile is a transformative technology,” says Amazon.com’s director of mobile shopping Paul Cousineau. “As our percentage of customers adopting mobile continues to grow, mobile can no longer be a limited subset of features or products. People do not put their phone down then go find a desktop to do something. They use their phone. And we think with clever use of functions and design, it is possible to give mobile customers 100%.”

Our design-build-deploy methodology ensures that product data flows in seamlessly from your ecommerce operations and we debunk the myth that there is “2 code bases to manage”. We offer the lowest total cost of ownership and most of our build take only 6-8 weeks.

We believe firmly that a dedicated, integrated mobile commerce approach means retailers and brands can leverage and extend their current ecommerce operations into mobile and tablet commerce, while also offering a unique experience, designed for maximum conversions rates and to deliver the highest possible level of customer satisfaction.

Speed matters! For 350+ top brands and retailers, we pre-load and cloud-host our clients product data in real-time, and this translates to FAST mobile page load times. On average, as measured by a third party, our dedicated pageload times out-perform transcoded sites by 3X and responsive design sites by up to 6X. Every second that a page is not loading is costing you $$. 

Please think about mobile (and tablet) commerce as more than a “one size fits all” experience. Large retailers like Harry and David are on-board and recently announced they are shunning responsive design so they can deliver a dedicated mobile experience, purpose-built for their mobile consumers. 

We are here to help. www.UnboundCommerce.com.

 

 

 

Understanding The “Mobile Commerce Gap”: 5 Things Every Online Retailer Should Know

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED IN 2011, BUT REMAINS RELEVANT TODAY. The numbers projected in this post have virtually ALL been exceeded. Some, by a wide margin. 
 Sometime this year, 50% of Americans will own a web-connected smartphone, yet less than 20% of online retailers have websites optimized and formatted to serve these mobile consumers.

I am calling this the “mobile commerce gap”. The reason for this inequity between demand and supply, in my opinion, is because the internal resources required for online retailers to properly develop a mobile commerce site have been pulled in other directions, even as smartphone adoption rates have exploded. As a result, a majority of online retailers are offering their mobile customers a very poor online shopping experience. This, in turn, results in poor conversion rates and missed sales, not to mention the fact that consumers are left with the general impression that the retail brand is not serving their needs.

Think about it, how many times have you visited a site on your smartphone and immediately left when you saw it was not optimized for mobile? According to Google, this happens 79% of the time!


Why this “gap”? The first distraction came in 2009 when retailers and brands alike were told they must “drop everything and build  an iPhone app”. While apps are great for some things, a vast array of surveys and studies have concluded that consumers much-prefer a mobile site over an app for commerce. The second was the social media craze of last year, as Facebook, Twitter, and the rest dominated headlines and became “must-haves”. Both soaked up internal IT resources and distracted online retailers from building the mobile-optimized sites needed to serve their increasingly-mobile customers.

So, what are the factors online retailers should consider, as they investigate offering their customers the ability to convert sales from their mobile devices via a mobile commerce site? I hope the following 5 points will clear some things up:

1) There is No “Mobile Web”

While it is true that most “standard” websites are capable of being viewed on a web-enabled phone, few consumers are willing to “pinch and zoom” their way into a converted sale on a standard site jammed into a small screen. Ever tried this? It’s not fun.

While the need for mobile-optimized sites might seem obvious, many retailers justify not investing in mobile commerce by citing low mobile-originating traffic to their  current site (usually 2-5%).  Of course, this low-traffic negative feedback loop is caused by the fact that mobile customers seldom return to a site after being greeted with such a poor user experience. The retailer then concludes there is no need to invest in the “mobile web”. Again, there is no “mobile web”.  There is only the web viewed on a mobile device.

2) Mobile Commerce is NOT Mobile Payments

There is a lot of “noise” right now regarding mobile payments at point of sale, when the phone is used as a “mobile wallet” to pay for coffee and the like. While mobile payments might-well emerge as an issue retailers need to address, this  is not the same as mobile commerce. Mobile payments involve banks, credit cards, investments in point of sale infrastructure, coupons, NFC,  loyalty cards, and a whole array of complex issues.

Mobile  commerce is simply the act of ordering something online, from your mobile phone, via a mobile-optimized version of a website. Retailers should not confuse the two, or delay the launch of a mobile commerce site while trying to understand mobile payment options and what uniform technology may or may not emerge victorious.

3) Mobile Commerce “Actualizes” Mobile Marketing

Remember, every time a consumer clicks on a marketing or advertising link to your website on their mobile phone, they should land on a site that is optimized for the device they are accessing that message on.  Whether a tweet, a Facebook post, a banner ad, a QR code, an SMS message, or an email,  the mobile consumer who acts upon the message should be able to convert that action easily into a sale, via a mobile commerce site. If you are a retailer and do not have a mobile commerce site and are spending money on social media marketing or mobile advertising, you are likely paying to promote links to a very poor customer experience.

4) Integrate, Don’t Duplicate

There are several options for creating a mobile commerce site. You could use a transcoder to “screen scrape” your standard website and shrink it to fit a mobile screen. You could “sub-out” your mobile commerce efforts to a third party, by letting them “handle it” with their own separate and duplicative mobile store. OR you could leverage and extend your current, proven and trusted  e-commerce operations into mobile via an integrated solution. This is a superior approach, in my opinion, as it means you are avoiding duplication, while also maintaining full in-house control and fueling mobile commerce from the same infrastructure you trust today for your e-commerce operations.  A software-based integration approach takes a bit more effort on the front-side, but the long-term benefits are significant, as this single effort, if done properly, can serve as the foundation for not only mobile commerce, but also Facebook  commerce and commerce-enabled iPhone and Android apps, as needed.

5) Devote IT Resources, Plan For Growth

The single biggest reason I hear retailers give for not moving on mobile commerce is a lack of IT resources. Simply put, this is a poor excuse. While it may be true that IT is backed up, the measurable, tracked ROI that mobile commerce offers should elevate this to the top of the list. The ROI is extremely rapid, by even the most conservative estimates of the resulting tracked, incremental mobile commerce sales. Retailers and brands that are out ahead of the curve will be the biggest winners, as long as they plan for growth and chose the right approach.


Compelling Numbers

Still not convinced that mobile commerce is a “must have”? In recent weeks Google and other mobile marketing players have begun encouraging retailers to sit up and take notice of this “gap”, since they can’t sell online retailers mobile marketing campaigns if they have no place for the target audience to “land” when they click though a mobile campaign ad/link.

Google and others are pointing to studies and reports that contain numbers that are hard to ignore. Here is a sampling:

  • $1.9 Billion: Worldwide online mobile sales in 2009.
  • $23.8 Billion: Expected worldwide online mobile sales in 2015.
  • 61%: The percentage of mobile users unlikely to return to a site not optimized for mobile.
  • 79%: The percentage of Google retailer advertisers who DO NOT have a mobile site.
  • 78%: The percentage of consumers who prefer a mobile site over an app.
  • 62%: The percentage of smartphone owners who have purchased physical goods via their phone in the last 6 months.
  • 2-5%: The typical percentage of mobile traffic coming to a non-optimized retail website.
  • 5X: The typical increase in conversion rates, upon the launch of a mobile commerce
  • Sources: Adobe-Mobile Shopper Insights, Google, eMarketer, Shop.org, Coda Research, Unbound Commerce.

The Time Is Now

Your customers are mobile and they are very likely trying to access your site on their smartphones right now. If they still see your “standard” e-commerce site crammed onto a small screen, you are delivering a poor customer experience and, as such, are missing incremental mobile sales. Try it yourself!

Some experts expect mobile commerce to grow to become as much as 10-15% of online sales. Retailers should weigh the risks of launching a solution that is not integrated with their current operations, since what might not be a problem at first could emerge as a big issue when mobile commerce makes up a significant percentage of online sales. Find the resources, take the time, and consider building/launching a mobile site ASAP that leverages and extends current online sales operations.

You will provide consumers a positive mobile interaction with your brand that also drives significant incremental, tracked revenue. Mobile commerce is here and the time to take advantage via a mobile commerce site is now!

___________________________________

Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is a former Tele Atlas exec, LBS consultant, and now leads Sales and Business Development for  Unbound Commerce.

Contact him today to learn more. Wilson@UnboundCommerce.com Boston Mobile: 303-249-2083.

Mobile Guest Post: Is responsive design killing mobile?

Picture yourself at a work event. What are you wearing? What are you talking about? How loud are you talking? If you indulge at all, how much have you had to drink? Now picture yourself on a weekend trip with a group of friends.

We won’t go into details, but things look a little different, don’t they? We all change behaviors based on our environment. Physical location and surroundings have a lot to do with our mindset, and can influence how we do just about everything.

Behavior on a mobile phone vs. a desktop computer is no exception. Your physical location, state of mind and desired outcomes can be profoundly different depending on which device you are using, yet recent efforts to adapt desktop sites to mobile often ignore these differences and simply scale the online experience to a smaller screen. The result is a degraded end-user experience that may not meet the needs of a mobile environment, as well as disappointing outcomes for marketers and consumers.

A Brief Explanation: Responsive vs. Mobile Web

At the most basic level, it’s the difference between having one website or two. Responsive design allows the layout, scale and orientation of the desktop site to be adapted to a mobile viewing experience. The content served up to the user is the same as on a desktop site, and while they layout is organized to accommodate a smaller screen, it is important to remember that the integrity of the desktop site is intended to remain as true to form as possible and any changes to the desktop site will also affect the mobile site. Responsive design is concerned only with size and scale, not with the end user’s device type or presumed environment.

A mobile website is separate and distinct site from the desktop site, and must be maintained as such.  It is designed to cater to the mobile experience, and makes the assumption that the end user has different objectives than they would on a desktop site. This means the mobile site may not offer the full scale of content served up on the desktop version, and the options presented on the landing page may be refined accordingly.

Which is better? Well, it depends

Going back to the work party vs. weekend with friends example, it’s clear we adapt our actions according to our environment. However, the case can be made that there are some things we do no matter where we are. Here are some examples that seek to make the case that the suitability of a responsive or mobile site depends entirely on whether the people using your site are changing behavior based on their environment – or not.

Airlines – Lufthansa first launched its mobile site in 2007 and has committed to continuous updates to ensure the site best meet the needs of its 140,000 daily visitors on-the-go. They understood that the top activities on mobile were not the same as those on desktop. Someone accessing the site via mobile is more likely to have already purchased a ticket and is primarily interested in checking in, viewing their flight status, or reviewing their booked itineraries, and these options are prominently displayed on the home screen and accessible from any page on the site. Whereas one their desktop site, the first thing you see is the option to search and book a new flight, followed by promotional offers.

Weather – Weather is widely considered the most universal topic. It may just be one of the few things we have in common with just about everyone on the planet – weather is weather, no matter where you are. Not surprisingly, we tend to interact with weather-related websites in a similar way regardless of our environment, whether on a mobile devices as we do on our desktop. The basic goal is to check the weather in a particular location. Because of this, it wouldn’t really make sense for a weather company to create a mobile site in addition to a desktop site, as a responsive site will fit the needs of all users, regardless of environment.

Retail – Retailers probably have the toughest job when determining their mobile web strategy.  Because retailer sites are typically very robust, with hundreds – sometimes thousands – of pages, their challenge is to find the perfect balance between website features, driving desired actions and mobile functionality. A recent Retail Systems Research report revealed that 49% of shoppers on Smartphones actually abandon retailers’’ m-commerce sites to use the full desktop sites on their Smartphones.

This speaks to a misunderstanding of the way we use mobile on-the-go, and is the primary reason m-commerce severely lags e-commerce as a convenient way to shop. People are not likely to make purchases at the bus stop or at the airport. Their mindset on-the-go is quite different, which is why translating a desktop site and expecting the same behavior is unreasonable. The pressure is on to cater to mobile shoppers, but an uninformed investment will fall flat if retailers don’t first understand user behavior.

Other Considerations

Aside from behavior on a particular website, data exists to help us understand what kinds of activities are associated with the mobile experience vs. desktop. For example, consumers are almost 2X’s as likely to share content via mobile as they are on desktop, with iPhone users sharing the most at 3X’s more than desktop users. Facebook accounts for 60% of all shares, followed by Twitter and Pinterest. People are more direct in their search terms on mobile and typically use one word versus multiple word searches on desktop.

This effort to minimize the ambiguity of search terms speaks to a greater sense of urgency on mobile, and illustrates an effort to have desired outcome met quickly and with a reduced margin for error. The top purchasing categories on mobile are event tickets, gift cards and food, while on a desktop the top three buys are electronics, books and clothing. This discrepancy in purchasing categories is a manifestation of the distinct behaviors and motivations associated with m-commerce vs. e-commerce.

In Summary

The debate about responsive vs. mobile is moot. There is no way to make a recommendation on either implementation without understanding how people use your service on the go (i.e. via mobile) and how they use it on desktop (at work or at home, after dinner). The insights may surprise you, or they may not, but at the end of the day they will point to your answer. Is their behavior the same? Then use responsive. If it’s different, think about how different it is and whether a mobile site will help your customers better achieve their goals and more easily interact with your brand in any environment. Mobile adoption clearly depends on meeting customer’s needs. If these needs are not met, we might undermine the true potential of mobile and ruin the experience for marketers and customers alike.

Cezar Kolodziej, PhD is the President, CEO and Co-Founder of Iris Mobile. He is recognized as one of foremost mobile technologist and visionary experts on MMS, Rich Media Messaging and universal mobile marketing. He has more than 20 years of technology and managerial leadership experience.

114% Aggregate Year-To-Year Mobile Commerce Growth

Revenue generated from dedicated mobile commerce sites built and deployed by leading mobile commerce solution provider Unbound Commerce jumped 113.87%, for a same-store index of 350+ retailers, as compared to the same three-month period in 2013.

This impressive aggregate growth percentage shows that mobile commerce not only more than doubled year over year, but that the pace of this growth is accelerating. A report issued in April showed Q1 January through March growth of 101.45%. Mobile commerce revenue is the big number, but other metrics also showed impressive increases in the second quarter.

The average value of an order placed on a mobile device was up 31.45% to $108.89, versus $82.84 for the same period in 2013. Mobile conversion rates also jumped up solidly, increasing by 27.44% over 2013, as consumers demonstrate they are increasingly willing to convert sales via smartphone.

The total number of unique users increased 25.02% and the number of page views rendered to these users jumped up by a solid 47.97%. On average, each session rendered 6.29 mobile pages to a mobile site visitor.

Page load times dropped 10.33% in the second quarter and this is likely attributable to the fact that a number of top-tier sites were redesigned and re-launched, with the goal of improving performance. On average, Unbound’s dedicated mobile site page load times outperform transcoded “screen scraped” pages by up to 3X and responsive web design pages by up to 6X.

“We are seeing strong demand for our dedicated, integrated solution, as the performance pitfalls of responsive start to emerge,” said Wilson Kerr Unbound Commerce VP Business Development and Sales. “Our retailers are able to serve purpose-built mobile commerce sites that are far-more than shrunken versions of their ecommerce sites and the aggregate impact of this ability is adding up fast, in the form of incremental revenues,” he added.

Unbound recently published 3 Case Studies detailing specific success stories for Monster Cables, Finish Line, and Patrick James. Based on growing demand, integrated tablet commerce sites are being built for a growing number of Unbound clients. In-store mobile engagement is also a hot growth area.

The Case Against Responsive Design

The hype about mobile responsive design reached a crescendo about a year ago and it is easy to see why. On the surface, the pitch resonates. Why manage multiple sites when you can manage just one and have it resize itself for all channels?

Simple, right? Not so fast…

Numbers
When mobile only made up 5-10 percent of a retailer’s traffic, the pitch resonated, but the flaws in this approach have been exposed as mobile commerce has grown far-faster than predicted and has evolved into a unique medium that drives significant revenue for retailers.

The notion of “one Web” for all audiences might suffice for content sites such as newspapers or magazines, but, for retailers, the mobile medium now deserves more than a reformatting of a desktop site, shrunk to fit a smaller screen.

According to comScore, mobile traffic now makes up 33 percent of all digital traffic for Walmart, 33 percent for Best Buy and 37 percent for Target. These are some serious numbers and for online pure-plays they are even higher and increasing fast.

And it is not just traffic.

According to eMarketer, 2013 mobile sales are up 68 percent over 2012. Deloitte just reported that almost 70 percent of U.S. smartphone owners intend to shop on their smartphones this holiday season, with smartphone market penetration now more than 60 percent.

According to IMRG/Capgemini, mobile commerce made up 23.2 percent of all second-quarter 2013 online sales, yet only 51 percent of smartphone owners reported making a purchase in the last six months. This means we are only seeing the tip of the mobile commerce iceberg. EBay alone will exceed  $20 billion in mobile sales this year.

As traffic and resultant revenues skyrocket, mobile is quickly evolving into a distinct medium that deserves to be treated as such. No longer does a “smaller copy” derivative version of an ecommerce site make the grade and retailers are starting to notice.

What about Google?
Google famously gave responsive a boost, when it “officially recommended” it back in 2012. But one only has to look at how Google makes its billions to see why.

A responsive approach makes Google’s job easier, as it can crawl and rank a single entity, versus several.

Google’s main point in this same post was to recommend 1) Having a mobile site 2) supporting deep linking and 3) fast pageload speeds. All three of these points, it can be argued, actually lean toward a deep integrated approach, versus responsive.

To be clear, having a mobile-specific “mdot” site does not mean search engine optimization (SEO) rankings will become “diluted” or hurt a page rank.

In fact, since its “official” recommendation, Google has specifically stated that a responsive approach does not benefit rankings and it is standard practice to add ecommerce page tags that instruct Googlebots regarding the fact that there is alternate content and where it can be found.

Another fact: Google itself uses rich mobile-specific sites, versus responsive.

Deriving value
The negatives of running all your channels of consumer interaction off a single base of HTML can be most-easily be seen when looking at performance rankings, as the same imagery, graphics and text used for ecommerce are re-rendered for mobile, while load times differ.

Also, a resized version of an ecommerce site means only what first exists on the ecommerce site can exist on the mobile site. This is called the “necessarily derivative limitation” and it is key to understand. This same limitation also applies to transcoded sites, by the way.

 

Pageload time rating

A mobile or tablet site  inextricably intertwined with the “upstream” ecommerce site features and functionality can trap retailers into an inability to shape the mobile site specifically for their rapidly expanding mobile customer base to capture maximum ROI and respond to evolving mobile buying trends.

A responsive approach also means the changes made to the ecommerce site can cause problems that cascade downstream, as graphics, text and site elements meant for large-screen ecommerce often translate poorly into the smaller mobile site context.

These problems are usually discovered when the new online retail content is pushed live and then negatively impacts the mobile site.

Much has been made recently of a re-positioning of responsive design, sometimes called “server side responsive.” And this is often positioned as a fix to “traditional responsive,” which necessitates a site replatform.

But this is really just a rebrand of the same solution, using better detection methodology to try to render different slices and dices of the site, based on the device detected. The essential limitation remains. It cannot exist on mobile if it does not first exist on ecommerce.

Building and managing a site built specifically for the mobile medium might take a little more effort, but the payoff is that a retailer can tailor the mobile site experience for maximum effect by adding mobile-specific features and functionality catered to a growing mobile audience.

An increasing number of large retailers are investigating ways to unhinge responsive mobile sites from upstream online retail functionality.

From Whole Cloth
An alternative to a “derivative” responsive mobile site, and certainly a transcoded site, is one based on a deep integration with an ecommerce infrastructure using API calls.

The template for the mobile site is unique and built from “whole cloth,” using best practices specific to the mobile medium. Data such as price, size, SKU, color, availability and imagery flows seamlessly in real-time from current ecommerce operations and is cached locally.

Third-party services are integrated and the software that powers the site can be licensed and hosted by the retailer, in-house. Promotional images are designed specifically for the mobile medium and loaded via a control panel dashboard.

In this way, current ecommerce operations are leveraged and extended into mobile, while the retailer has the freedom and flexibility to offer mobile-specific features and functionality designed to drive mobile revenue. And they have full in-house control of the entire site.

An independent survey of mobile commerce sites conducted by Marlin Mobile showed API-integrated sites load up to 3X faster than transcoded sites and up to 6X faster than responsive sites.

Industry-wide conversion rates for all mobile sites in their totality lag behind ecommerce, so reducing friction and ensuring optimal performance is an imperative.

A deep integration approach also does not necessarily mean more work for the retailer’s IT team.

While this is a common refrain among responsive solution providers, the fact is that once APIs are mapped for a specific ecommerce platform, this “pre-integration” can be applied to all retailers using it, with tweaks and additions made to link up third-party services such as recommendations or reviews.

Also, it is increasingly viewed as a positive to have the merchant IT involvement since more retailers want the option of licensing the software and running mobile on their own servers to take technical and creative control of a medium that is responsible for an ever-growing percentage of revenue.

MOBILE BUYING behavior is different and the medium is different.

As mobile grows rapidly, smart retailers are untethering the mobile experience from their ecommerce site functionality to take maximum advantage of mobile commerce in ways only just starting to be understood.

Wilson Kerr is vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston. Reach him at wilson@unboundcommerce.com. This post was published as an article in Mobile Commerce Daily.