12 Dec The Problem with Responsive Design in B2B eCommerce
updated Dec. 12 2014 | originally published May 13, 2013
As I was preparing for a meeting at a large wireless carrier, I came across this photo on the right. 40 years ago the inventor of the mobile phone, Martin Cooper, made the first wireless call. Can you believe what has happened in 40 years in the wireless industry? Crazy.
Mobile is obviously important and B2B companies need to take mobile seriously. According to Ariba, more than 50% of B2B buyers research using mobile and tablet. I also believe that tablet and mobile are drastically different, but let’s just say that lots of B2B buyers choose to use their mobile device for B2B purposes. Larger screen devices make it easier to research and even purchase.
B2B companies should rethink how they view mobile and develop a solid long term strategy. The two dominant mobile strategies in the market today are 1) responsive design and 2) mobile first.
I take issue with both.
Responsive design is not a good long term strategy
Matt Hardy writes this on eConsultancy, “If you’re adopting a mobile-first approach, you’re in danger of soon coming up against the same problems that you faced as your audience started the move from desktop to mobile – namely an experience that isn’t optimized for the device that the user is using.”
I would add responsive to that argument as well.
The problem is analytics
B2B companies that track mobile behavior will see something very interesting. They find that many b2b users use the site differently on their mobile device than other devices like laptops. Common sense isn’t it?
For example, an equipment manufacturer sells both large equipment and the parts to service those machines. They found that 75% of the users visiting their site on mobile devices look for parts, installation instructions, assembly drawings, or some other content related to break-fix. When those same users visited from their laptops or tablets, the use cases were much broader. The B2B users were, of course, still looking for parts at times, but also comparing machines, looking up orders, downloading specifications, etc.
It is pretty common sense. The use cases for mobile are different from desktop and tablet. For mobile, B2B companies should consider a different home page, taxonomy of products, search algorithm, promotions, and dare I say it, a different look and feel. In other words a different experience.
Why? Because Justin said so? No way. B2B companies should have a different experience because analytics told you the mobile experience should be different. Because doing so, improves conversion or helps the B2B buyer do their job easier. Just like every other decision they make in their e-commerce business. Or on the flip side, if b2b users don’t find the mobile experience up to par they will go somewhere else.
So, do I hate responsive?
On the contrary, I love responsive design. I have it on this website. There is more overhead in the design, but it is an excellent stop-gap solution. I say, “stop-gap” because guess what? My analytics on this blog show me that people use my site differently on mobile than on the desktop.
If you want to treat mobile as second citizen like I have on this blog, use responsive.
If not responsive then what?
I believe that the issue isn’t about mobile. The issue is that we need to be able to create experiences optimized for all types of situations. And to do that b2b organizations must separate out the experience from the content.
Matt Hardy again says it like this, “Software engineers have long understood the benefits of separating form from function, i.e. how something looks from what it does. By separating the two, it is possible to adjust one without (always) affecting the other. Need to reskin something due to a brand refresh? Just change the ‘how it looks’ part
Need to make a search function more intelligent? Just change the ‘what it does’ part.
The way in which your audience engages with that service will evolve over time. They might want to engage with it using a tablet, a smart watch or even an in-car console. “
By separating the experience from the content, marketing and e-commerce teams can optimize an experience for any situation and/or device.
P.S. I rarely talk about my products on this blog, but in this case I would be remiss not to. Oracle Endeca is an experience management platform that separates the experience from function. Of course, you can use responsive. However, when you want to create an experience optimized exactly for a group of devices, you use the same tools you manage all of your other experiences on. Want a different taxonomy, search algorithms, promotion(s), search algorithms and landing pages? No problem.
Meanwhile, Endeca uses the same content, data, and rules so you are in no way recreating the wheel with every experience you build. That’s the point – you just create new experiences. New device comes out in the future that every B2B buyer in the world uses? No problem, just create a new experience. Okay, enough of that.
I originally published this in May of 2013, but recently read Matt Hardy’s article on eConsultancy and wanted to include some of his insights.