We’ve built quite a few responsive sites now, none of them simple (worthwhile things rarely are). Whilst it’s pushed our design and development skills to the max, causing us some no small measure of pain on many occasions, the results we’re seeing from implementing RWD are very exciting.
Responsive design is not a silver bullet. I’ve said that before. Right here, in fact. It’s not always the best solution for the job at hand and sometimes creating a separate mobile site is far more sensible and logical. We’ve certainly recommended that approach to clients before and stand by it wholeheartedly – at the end of the day, it’s about finding the right solution for the task at hand, not about squeezing one out of preconceived notions.
Having said that though, RWD is an amazing technique that’s proving itself, at least to us, with some very impressive business results. Whether it be dramatically increasing sales or vastly increasing user engagement by catering to a rapidly growing mobile and tablet market, responsive sites provide a device agnostic experience that makes users happy. And when users are happy, they do all sorts of crazy stuff like, y’know, buy things.
It’s not rocket science. More and more people are using mobile devices to surf the web than ever before. Hell, even as I write this my wife is glued to her iPad on the couch in front of the TV, burning through shopping sites faster than a hyena on steroids. When she hits a roadblock, like a site that doesn’t play well with tablets, she kills the tab and moves on to the next like a ruthless shopping machine. You’d be surprised at just how many well-known sites don’t work well on an iPad and how quickly they are dismissed.
It doesn’t take a hungering capitalist to recognise that we live in a competitive, convenience driven world where decisions to buy, enjoy, contact, recommend, like, recognise or call are processed in a microsecond by savvy Internet users. Whilst nothing is ever a slam dunk, removing as many interaction hurdles as possible can only be a good thing. Likewise, knowing your user base, acknowledging the way they now browse web sites and creating a solution by placing the user at the centre of the online experience can have dramatic results.
Take Harviestoun Brewery, a site we built completely responsive from the ground up, launching it in multiple phases (we’re about half way through) in the process. The new site went live just over two months ago and the stats have skyrocketed. User engagement is higher than ever with a bounce rate dropping from a whopping 72.43% down to 19.3%, unique visits increasing by 37.58%, pages browsed per visit doubling, and the average visit duration going up by a staggering 69.76%.
Best of all, online revenue has more than tripled with the same amount of sales being generated in the nine weeks since launch as in the 29 weeks previously. Even more excitingly, a significant portion of them where made via mobile and tablet devices. Overall, it’s pretty incredible. Of course, we are talking about a site here who’s mobile and tablet visits accounted for 25.25% of it’s entire traffic last year.
Of course, excellent marketing has played a huge part in the success of the site and we were fortunate to work with someone who had a strong vision for the site and real enthusiasm for pushing it forward, meticulously driving its online success. Ultimately, a good marketing plan and a good platform to market through go hand-in-hand and by facilitating a highly usable, ubiquitous user experience, the new Harviestoun web site has given visitors every opportunity to spend time on the site and purchase something and absolutely no reason not to. It’s a great feeling to see a happy tweet from someone who just bought beer using their iPhone whilst sitting on the bus journey home.
“We spent a lot of time thinking about who would be visiting our site and why. One group of people are just going to be curious; so we needed to create a really open, friendly vibe. Of course, you can create that with great design, images and copy. But responsive adds a tactile dimension that we feel really adds to this casual brand experience.”
Ewan McCowen, Marketing Manager, Harviestoun Brewery
None of this is surprising though when you consider that one sixth of all Internet use in the UK last year was via a mobile device. One. Sixth. Factor in that over one hundred million tablets were sold in 2012 and you start to see a picture of how the world is changing and, perhaps more importantly, how use of Internet use is changing. Web sites are no longer solely about the desktop experience any more and we have to stop thinking that way.
But why responsive design? Surely, as I even said right at the start, a separate mobile site could’ve been just as effective? Quite possibly. Ultimately, the success of a site like Harviestoun was driven not by the way it was created but by the end solution that was delivered and the way it was marketed. Would a user really care if the site they saw on their phone was responsive or a separate site? Probably not.
The benefits in utilising RWD from both the client and project perspective where very strong, though. For the client, the responsive approach allowed for a single site to be updated and managed with no need for separate or complex CMS’. Going forward, it’s also a cheaper, quicker and more effective solution for the client to maintain, a single site that caters to the needs of every user on every device.
And it’s this device agnosticism that RWD facilitates that’s so incredibly beneficial. Whilst a separate mobile site might cater to the mobile phones of today, what about next year or the year after or in five years? What about when Apple releases the next version of the iPad Mini that’s neither a phone nor a tablet? What site do you serve then? The desktop or the mobile? So long as responsive design is properly implemented, it will cater to almost any display and any device.
“We had long discussions about whether to have a separate mobile site. But in the end, the responsive argument won out (even with its design limitations) because we simply couldn’t afford the time required to maintain and update two sites.”
Ewan McCowen, Marketing Manager at Harviestoun Brewery
Yes, RWD is tricky to implement well. Yes, it requires a lot of time, attention, skill and experience. Yes, it’s not always the right approach. And yes, it can be a complete ball ache to pull off, requiring a huge amount of commitment and understanding from all parties. But, if done right, it can also help improve your business dramatically by removing the impediments faced by users when trying to perform critical online actions on non-desktop devices.
And to those that say RWD is not worth it because it takes too long or costs too much, I’d say that ignoring mobile and tablet users is going to cost a lot more in the long run.