Future Proofing E-Commerce for the Mobile Era

The launch of smartphones with the capacity for e-commerce created a new channel for Internet merchants to address, mobile commerce.

M-commerce revenues are expected to grow to US$31 billion by 2016, according to Forrester Research. The number of mobile devices available formaking purchases on the Web has drastically increased since the iPhone first made waves. Thereare currently several key smartphone players and multiple tablet providers, and new devices are relentlesslyreleased into the market.

Considering that mobile Internet use has essentially doubled every year since2009 — based on research from analytics firm StatCounter — there is no question that Internet merchantsmust put a great focus on mobile. However, with so many devices — varying in size and functionality — an m-commerce strategy that addresses every angle can be overwhelming and convoluted.

Maintaining an m-commerce strategy has become much more complex since the first generation ofsmartphones debuted. Initially, Internet merchants took a segmented approach, creating m-commercesites to run independently from their flagship websites. Mobile sites were scaled down to fit smartphones.

However, the introduction of tablets resulted in screen dimensions that were in between those of computersand smartphones. The segmented mobile strategy required a business to maintain three separate sites to reachall platforms. This meant three separate projects — and three separate sets of costs incurred — each time a site needed maintenance or updates.

Furthermore, new platforms are sure to be released in the future. Keepingup with a segmented mobile strategy will be an initiative unto itself. Fortunately, innovative solutions –like websites leveraging responsive design — provide a simplified approach to maintaining an e-commercepresence on the entire spectrum of Internet devices.

An Elegant Solution

Responsive design is an effective solution to the challenges presented by the explosion of mobileInternet use because it eliminates the need for a segmented mobile strategy. A single responsive designwebsite identifies and adapts to whatever device is accessing it to provide an optimal user experience.

For Internet merchants, this means one e-commerce site can be accessed and used by customers onevery type of device: computers, smartphones, tablets, etc. Responsive sites analyze the resolutionconstraints associated with every size and type of mobile device. They then make adjustments topresentation layers to offer the best display for the device in use.

Responsive design provides asimplified solution to the m-commerce conundrum, but there are many other advantages leading e-tailers totake a look at this flexible approach.

E-commerce sites created with a responsive design strategy require a significant, up-front investmenton development but become cost savers in the long run. When it comes time for updates andmaintenance, a responsive e-commerce site incurs costs only once. As long as future Internet devices stilluse a screen for display, responsive design will be able to optimally present e-commerce sites on themwith minor adjustments.

The device-independent functionality that responsive design offers an e-commerce website also ensuresthe store has access to the maximum number of potential customers. There is no risk of losing WindowsPhone customers or iPad customers just because an m-commerce site won’t fit in the dimensionsof those devices.

For Internet merchants, this is a digital application of the old retail maxim: “You can’tmake them a customer unless you get them in the store.” Having just one website for every deviceconsolidates traffic as well, boosting a Web store’s SEO rankings.

Flexibility for the Future

Responsive design is an adept solution for Internet retailers to address the complexities of a constantlygrowing mobile environment. However, as with any operational shift, organizations should thoroughly vet howto go about implementing responsive design before acting. A company shouldn’t have to change its business practicesto fit its website, its software or new business tool. There are flexible technologies that can powerresponsive design without disrupting an organization’s current e-commerce setup.

Open source Web infrastructures such as Drupal are developed in a way that allows them to enhancean e-commerce site with minimal intrusion into its existing state. Drupal’s open source nature makesit immune to proprietary boundaries by enabling interoperable data services for websites and flexiblestorefronts working with every kind of device.

When a company no longer has to cough up around athird of its store’s budget to cover licensing fees, that money can go back into the platform to ensurethe best e-commerce experience is being provided. Most importantly, a company looking to simplify itsmobile strategy through responsive design can leverage an open source e-commerce solution withoutcompletely dumping its existing platform.

As mobile Internet devices become ubiquitous across the globe, mobile’s share of e-commerce saleswill continue to grow. For e-tailers, responsive design websites offer an effective strategy for m-commerce that will maintain its viability even as new devices are released.

Allowing one e-commercesite to do the work of several, responsive design alleviates headaches brought on by an intricate mobileenvironment, while lowering maintenance costs. Leveraging open source e-commerce solutions allowsInternet merchants to prepare their Web stores for the future without scrapping an existing platform.

Asthe approach continues to advance, more Internet merchants will implement responsive design to keeptheir mobile strategies relevant.

Mike O'Connor is cofounder and North America president of Commerce Guys. Reach himat [email protected].

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