February 17th 2014

Responsive web design & mobile trends

by Martin O'Toole

For a couple of years now, marketers have reviewed mobile marketing trends, predicting the point whereby mobile search will overtake that of desktop. It appears that 2014 will than likely be that year. And with 58% of the UK population now owning a smartphone and many consumer sites now receiving circa 30% of their traffic via mobile devices, the importance of responsive web design really cannot be ignored.

So how on point are we when it comes to having user-friendly responsive web design when it comes to mobile devices? Statistically speaking, the answer is: not all that well. According to a recent study carried out by Econsultancy.com, it's estimated that around 80% of brands still don't have a responsive web design - thus they do not have a responsive site. Yet the current statistics also tell us that 71% of consumers regularly use their mobile devices to search for products and 27% are already regularly using their mobiles to purchase products - very much reinforcing Google's ZMOT theory.

What's ZMOT? It's Google's 'Zero Moment of Truth' - detailed in a book they published ('Winning The Zero Moment of Truth') back in 2011.

Essentially, ZMOT is the moment when a consumer - inspired by advertising, PR, word of mouth, or a good old-fashioned basic need - grabs their smartphone, tablet, or laptop, and starts researching a product/service. When you consider the current statistics around the use of mobile, it's pretty impossible to deny that mobile doesn't already play an integral part in the Zero Moment of Truth - from the perspectives of web design and content marketing.

So let's consider the first element - i.e. design.

If we assume that the ZMOT theory is worth some serious consideration - and that brand owners need to ensure they're in the Zero Moment of Truth - then what are the issues they face from a mobile perspective? Well, the first and most obvious thing is that you need to have a mobile-friendly site. Consumers are significantly more likely to leave your (mobile) site quickly if you don't. Then you have a couple of choices. Either create a separate mobile site (likely using an 'm.' domain), or consider a responsive web design ('RWD'). Responsive web design isn't a new concept in development terms (and I'm no developer, so you'll get laymen's terms from me on the subject). However, do bear in mind that 80% of brands still aren't using it.

What's Responsive Web Design? It's web design aimed at optimising the viewing experience across platform/device. Removing the need for consumers to scroll/pan/muck around on their mobile devices - thus leaving it less likely for them to leave your site for a more user-friendly competitor site.

RWD is a more cost-effective way to tackle the issue of mobile. Simply put, if you are in the market for a mobile site, and your desktop site could do with a kicking, then RWD is a very viable option whereby one main development project is carried out (with variations).

Having recently reviewed a selection of leading fashion brand sites for a seminar I gave at MODA, it was obvious to me that the fashion industry has pulled up its mobile socks in the last 12 months. In fact, having reviewed ten sites, only one leading UK fashion brand has not yet made the leap to a mobile/responsive site.

TK Maxx

If we look at the TK Maxx site as an example of good responsive design best practice, we can see some obvious points for consideration:

  • They've retained the main brand image from the home page/campaign creative
  • They've completely designed the navigation
  • They've kept the mobile version clean, simple, and idiot-proof to navigate and browse for product

Comparing this to the Next site...

Points for consideration:

  • Here, there has been no consideration made to multi-device display
  • No consideration has been made to the user. The site has simply been reformatted to fit the screen of an iPhone 4s. As a result, the subtly designed links (to product) are almost invisible on the 4-inch screen.

Whilst I've no doubt that Next have their reasons for not currently having a mobile site, one has to wonder what effect this is having to their online sales and overall product awareness, compared to their competitors.

From the consumers' perspective, there is evidently no consideration towards the user experience (and the likely end result of having a disenfranchised consumer). In today's landscape, where such large numbers of consumers are using mobile to search for products, can brand owners afford to ignore this? Ultimately the equation is simple:

  • Customer Researches your product on mobile + customer has happy and fruitful experience = increased likelihood of buying product; or
  • Customer Researches your product on mobile + customer has rubbish experience = ricochets off your site and buys from competitor site.

Mobile is already playing a major part in e-commerce, however, there's evidently a much longer road ahead, as brand owners find the time (and investment) to develop their mobile propositions. But with 2014 looking like the biggest year to-date for mobile, it's certainly time for brands to consider the unarguable importance of mobile - and owning a share of voice in this space.

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