Mobile Optimization is important, but don’t neglect the desktop!

2015 Merchandising Workshop – Once again, I enjoyed attending this annual industry event.  The more intimate setting for digital retail merchandisers allows it to be more focused on sharing tactical insights and offering actionable recommendations that retailers can implement quickly.  The beautiful overlook at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes is an added bonus.

merch15-JA Dr Is In picPretending to be a doctor for the day in the “Doctor Is In” website critique sessions, I had the pleasure of meeting, one on one, with a number of digital retailers from a broad range of industries with diverse customer demographics.  Many had recently completed redesigns and replatforms or were preparing to launch new sites.  It was interesting to learn that most of the retailers had similar long term objectives, however they were in different phases of the journey. Improving the return on investment from mobile devices, particularly smartphones, was high on the priority list for the majority.

During the website reviews, it was clear that optimization of the mobile experience was a priority when planning and implementing their redesigned and replatformed sites.  And responsive design had been embraced by several of them.

When shopping the sites from a smartphone, most were well organized, information was easy to consume, and overall they were easy to browse and shop.  While there was still room for improvement, the user did not run into any “digital walls” which we have seen in previous years, when complex desktop content was presented on a smaller form factor with no device optimization.

However, my observations were very different when shopping the same sites from a desktop computer.  In a number of instances, the primary shopping pages had a great deal of unused real estate on the page.  Some pages were over-simplified, critical elements were understated and formatted in a layout that required unnecessary scrolling, making it more difficult for a user to quickly scan and move forward in the conversion path.  The overall result was a significant opportunity loss.

This led me to identify a new usability challenge in my website assessments this year.   Solving for mobile without sacrificing the existing desktop experience.

Solving for mobile is top of mind for many ecommerce leaders.  It is a new channel that must be considered in your strategic plans.  When discussing mobile optimization, we often hear “design for mobile first”.  However, it became apparent that something was being lost in translation.   Our design techniques must be revisited to better understand the motivations of users when engaging with a business through each device.  Smartphones have a smaller form factor, and require more focus on expediency and simplifying the experience.  However the next step is to design for the desktop (and tablets) in order to take advantage of a larger form factor and deliver a rich user experience that includes advanced imaging, content, and more expansive design elements.

User testing is even more important with the addition of multiple devices.  Usability tests should include results from the users’ reactions to sites on desktops, smartphones and tablets. This can be especially helpful to identify where responsive design is hitting the mark and where an adaptive approach may need to be considered.

Here are some points to contemplate when formulating your website plans.

  • Identify how the user leverages each step in the shopping path by device.
  • Use responsive design as a tactic to make site design and production more efficient, when the same content needs to be presented on multiple devices.
  • Design, user test, and optimize for each device independently. A single cohesive message should be delivered to the customer, however it will likely be executed differently across devices.

In the race to harness and monetize your site’s ever-increasing mobile activity, don’t forget about the bread and butter of your online business – the desktop experience.  This is the right time to be mindful of all channels.  Embrace the mobile channel, while continuing to leverage all the lessons learned and expertise you have acquired over the past 20+ years on the desktop.

 To learn more about usability testing, contact us!

Written by: Joanna Alexander, Sr. Consultant

3 Hot Tips

Identify your omnichannel strategy first

Agnostic of device or channel.

Think of the customer first

Define how this strategy translates to consumers’ needs by channel.

Design to support consumer needs by device.

Use responsive design when the customer is looking for the same content across devices. Use adaptive design when there is an opportunity to make the experience more meaningful by designing to the screen size.