Is Responsive Design the Right Choice for Enterprise E-Commerce Retailers?

Many enterprise website owners are currently evaluating responsive web design as a way to consolidate their multi-screen web strategy.

For these businesses, going responsive makes a lot of sense. By reducing the complexity of the site into a single code base, companies can lower the total cost of ownership of web initiatives and future-proof the site for new devices.

However, many e-commerce companies are still skeptical of responsive design as a solution to the multi-screen problem. They are concerned with how responsive design will affect the customer experience and overall website metrics.

To help answer the question of whether responsive design is a good choice for enterprise e-commerce companies, this post includes a high-level overview of:

  1. Why some enterprise-sized businesses are embracing responsive web design to consolidate their web strategy.
  2. The risks of responsive design for e-commerce retailers.
  3. Whether it is possible for implement responsive design successfully in an e-commerce environment.

1. Why some enterprises are choosing to ‘go responsive’

The promise of responsive design is that it dynamically adapts websites to different screen sizes (across desktop, tablet, phablet and smartphones), using one set of code.

The advantage of this approach is that the website’s core content, features and business logic remain the same across each device, while the presentation layer of the website adapts to, say, increase text size, make buttons bigger, or change the grid structure.

For many companies, this is an immensely valuable benefit. It means that companies can serve their customers’ needs across any device platform while simultaneously eliminating the need for separate mobile and tablet sites.

The technical efficiencies can be remarkable. Web operations teams become empowered to simplify their site development processes, and benefit from having no additional overhead in the form of managing redirects or mobile proxies.

And while the initial development overhead of responsive design projects can be high, the final product is usually a website that works great across devices.

(If you’re looking for examples, just check out this gallery of well-executed responsive websites.)

2. The risks of responsive design for e-commerce websites

When the goal of a website is to let customers educate themselves, responsive design is a fantastic way to create a positive and consistent user-experience across all devices.

However, when the goal of a website is to drive conversions, reflowing the same content and features across devices can make it difficult to create a successful shopping experience.

Indeed, the core benefit of responsive design – that it results in a consistent experience across desktop, tablet and smartphone – means that by definition it isn’t optimized for conversions on each and every platform.

And in an age where mobile is responsible for up to 30% of a website’s traffic, optimizing conversion rates across each platform is now a non-negotiable activity.

Take Leatherman’s responsive website for example. The website follows many common conversion optimization best practices on desktop, but is not optimized for conversion on smartphones and tablets.

On the desktop site, the price, product info and ‘Add to cart’ button are clearly visible, but the structure of the responsive grid system means that customers on smartphones have to scroll a long way down the page to access the same information and features.

On Leatherman’s responsive website, customers need to scroll…
…and scroll…
…and scroll some more to add to cart, read product descriptions, and read reviews.

Leatherman is experiencing a worst case scenario for responsive e-commerce sites — the requirements of the design pushes essential page components down the page, and is likely negatively affecting site conversion rates.

In cases like this, the risk that the technical implementation takes precedence over the business requirements means that the cost to the business can rapidly outweigh any technical efficiencies gained by the web operations team.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that many e-commerce companies are still treating responsive design with skepticism – in 2013, only 4.5% of the Top 500 Internet Retailers used responsive design in their multi-screen web strategy.

3. Is it possible to create a high-converting responsive e-commerce site?

For an e-commerce company to successfully implement a responsive design, the business team needs to be empowered to own conversion rate optimization across each channel.

Fortunately, some retailers have already solved the problem. Take consumer technology retailer Garmin:

Garmin is a responsive e-commerce site that is also flexible to ongoing conversion optimization across each device.

Contrast Garmin’s website with the Leatherman example. On Garmin’s product page, the team has brought all of the important information and features above the mobile fold. Even the shopping cart flow – traditionally a high-abandonment point for mobile users on e-commerce websites has been heavily optimized for  smartphones.

As you can see below, the desktop website keeps the tried-and-true shopping cart flow, and on mobile, an always-accessible, live-updating shopping cart lives alongside the product detail page, so users can quickly see their cart and move into the checkout flow.

Garmin’s shopping cart on desktop.
The mobile product page…
…includes a live shopping cart that slides in from the right.

In this case, the business team has not been restricted by the responsive grid system, and is able to implement data-driven conversion optimization features – like an always-accessible shopping cart – that actively deliver increased revenue across each platform.


So, is responsive web design a good methodology for e-commerce retailers to consolidate their multi-screen web strategy?


At Mobify, we believe that it is very much the future of the web, and we’re not the only ones; Google loves responsive web design, too.

However, e-commerce websites pursuing the responsive approach need to understand that the actual responsive design is only one aspect to the strategy.

A successful responsive website is one that empowers the technology team to work with increased efficiency, while remaining flexible to the revenue generation and conversion optimization requirements of the business team.

Resource ad