When store owners decide to revamp their online stores for all devices, they are presented with an important decision: leverage a responsive ecommerce design or create a mobile specific (mCommerce) site.

This decision will impact the entire scope of the project, budget and time for building the new store and must be made in the initial discovery phase. A responsive store would be built and styled to be a perfect interface for any device size. Visitors from a regular desktop computer, tablet or phone would all hit the same site, same catalog of products and same shopping experience. The mCommerce approach involves building an entirely separate theme for mobile. This allows the store developers to simplify and optimize the store for mobile devices while focusing separately on a desktop site.

Both of these approaches can get the job done and we see many examples of both in the marketplace today. However, the responsive approach is quickly becoming the best long-term choice for future shopping environments. Below I will discuss the positive aspects for building a responsive store while also addressing some of the popular arguments against this approach.

One Centralized Code Source

Responsive ecommerce web design requires one code base as opposed to the two code bases needs for mCommerce. Responsive sites work from one URL and one theme. Over time, maintenance for a responsive site will be simplified because all of the work will be centralize to one platform. Any changes made to the site theme will be global across all devices. While the development and testing time invested into a responsive design will be more intensive during the building process, the end result is a streamlined, simplistic interface to build one in the future.

Unified Content & Functionality

In this growing age of mobile browsers, visitors of a store generally expect it to function the same way across all devices. A responsive site ensures that, while some elements will shift and become smaller or expandable, they will always be there for every user.

While mCommerce stores allow developers to make drastic layout changes to better suite smaller devices, it is also a harsh adjustment required for the user. Loyal customers may not understand large functionality changes or missing elements that can be seen between a full store and mobile store.

Thinking Mobile-First

When choosing to build one responsive site over two device-specific sites, you are allowing the designer and developers to think mobile first. This means that during the entire development process, the team of developers will always consider the smallest device first before implementing any element.

During the design composition process, the mobile look and feel will be established first before the more spacious and elaborate desktop version of the site is even considered. All elements of the page including the cart, account links, site navigation, category filtering, and buttons will be sized and styled be mobile with the idea of expanding with the device size.

This is a modern way of thinking about building a website that a specific mobile commerce often overlooks. Many times we see a mobile-specific site lack the well-developed mobile strategy we see in a responsive design.

SEO – Google Loves Responsive

Building two separate stores requires two separate sets of URLs. The link to the full site cannot be the same as the mobile version link. Since there are two separate links to the same content, URL redirects must be implemented in order for visitors to consistently find store content. Rather than user quickly reaching your device-optimized content, redirecting users to a mobile-friendly site can take extended load time.

Over the past two years, Google has included responsive design as a recommendation for improving Search Engine Optimization. Google makes this recommendation because having one URL makes it much easier for customers to find, interact and share the site. Google algorithms will be able to quickly and easily assign indexing properties to the store’s content if only one URL is involved. Google only has to crawl the store once as opposed to multiple times with a store utilizing mCommerce.

The Opposing Cons of Responsive eCommerce

While there are many positives for building your new store responsive, there are also some arguments against this approach. The first is project cost. Building a responsive site can be very comprehensive as there are many things to consider during the initial development and design process. There can be considerably more testing involved to ensure that the responsive interface is truly optimized for any device. However, if a store is undergoing a drastic platform change, then the designers and developers will be working with the mobile first plan in mind. As responsive methods grow over time, we will see a drastic drop in the amount of hours required to build responsive sites.

For more complex shopping environments, entire processes my need to change for a mobile interface. This includes the general checkout functionality or store navigation. Stores offering a large variety of products will want to consider whether going responsive will impact the shopper’s ability to find what they are looking for. Will product detail pages be too full of descriptions and product reviews for the customer to find the cart button? Should the checkout be a different process for mobile users to help streamline the process? While these questions are important, they can all be addressed during the discovery process before development or design has begun.

Image optimization for mobile is also a concern. The product imagery is the most important aspect of any online store. Larger images used for desktop screens could lose quality when sized for mobile and could also cause performance issues when loading on a mobile screen. Responsive images can be one of the most frustrating aspects of a project. However, there are methods to ensure image performance issues do not occur. Smashing Magazine has written several articles about this topic, including ways of utilizing JavaScript to optimize imagery. While image optimization for responsive sites is a valid argument, creating a mobile specific site to display optimized photos is not the answer.

Looking at the decision that many store owners face with an eCommerce rebuild, there is no wrong answer. Building a responsive site will involve some additional planning and development time upfront, but will result in a single platform that will be easy to maintain and will look great on any device. Selecting the mCommerce option will simplify the development process as one site is focused on mobile devices while the other is designed for large displays. Both will result in a great new store that can be used anywhere. In the end, the decision will be based on the complexity required for both the desktop and mobile versions of the store, the client budget, and required timelines. Leveraging a robust ecommerce platform like Magento can increase management capabilities and the cost-effectiveness of the decision you make.

We would love to discuss your next project and assist with this important decision. Feel free to contact us or use the comments section below to start a discussion.


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