In 2014 an ecommerce website simply must work equally well on a phone and tablet, as it does on a larger screen. Conversion rates are still typically lower on smaller devices; however research suggests that users are significantly more likely to buy on a mobile where the site is specifically optimized. There is also a lot of research which suggests that people who view sites on smaller devices, often go on to complete the purchase on devices with larger screens.
The most commonly used method to achieve this is through responsive design (making a single set of content adapt to the different screen sizes it might be used on).
This might sound relatively simple however I can assure you it’s not. Laying out a complex screen in the space available on a mobile device is completely different to doing the same on a widescreen laptop. The real challenge here is that responsive design is about getting pretty much the same set of content and images to work on both!
I won’t go into full details here but effectively it means the design and build process is potentially 3 or 4 times more complicated than it used to be. The impact of this is it means a project takes 3 or 4 times longer, meaning it costs 3 or 4 times more. This is a problem, both in terms of costs and timescales. Not all projects have massive budgets and long lead in times, and we as developers have to adapt to these needs.
The result is that these days when it comes to ecommerce layouts, and most other builds for that matter, clients have a basic decision to make about design. Do you go bespoke, or so you use an off the shelf template or framework?
Sticking mainly to ecommerce for now there are 2 main approaches:
- We create you your own bespoke responsive design from scratch. This is for clients with a suitable budget who want absolute control over their product. We’re big fans of bespoke because when we started development some 13 years ago now there was no other choice, and we’ve personally seen how investing in bespoke systems can pay off in the long term. A website is a long term investment and a carefully thought out front end should last a minimum of 3-4 years, and more than pay for itself in that time.
- For other clients, who may not have the same budget, timescales or design requirements, there are the prebuilt themes. These are out of the box designs which can be installed relatively simply on eCommerce and other CMS platforms. They can typically be purchased for less than £100 so make very good financial sense. Here is a NopCommerce theme for example: http://themes.lavella.nop-templates.com/.
The problem here is that it leaves no middle ground, and in our experience most clients fit into a middle ground. They don’t need or cant afford a completely bespoke solution, yet they don’t want something completely out of the box.
This is where we have developed our own 3rd solution of customizing themes. This customization can range from simple logo and color changes, to a complete reworking to something which barely resembles the original theme.
The major benefit of this approach is that a high degree of customization is possible, with less work than an entirely bespoke approach.
As an example take: http://www.mulberrybush.co.uk (specialist retailers of children's toys and games). Believe it or not this is based on this theme http://themes.motion.nop-templates.com/
Mulberrybush are a client we have worked with for many years. They were used to a bespoke design but realized the need to go responsive necessitated a shift in thinking, and so were open to this 3rd approach.
From a client perspective this takes a leap of faith, because its very hard as developers to reassure a client that we can turn http://themes.motion.nop-templates.com/ into http://www.mulberrybush.co.uk, and explain exactly where the boundaries of possibilities lie.
Fortunately because we’d always delivered over the years they trusted us. They also trusted us because they knew we had a very skilled designer on board (Anna Celeste Watson), who was able to translate their ideas for a new site into something we could build on top of this theme. Now this wasn’t always a simple process, but the result is a completely unique site, built around proven techniques, yet that didn’t take the same build time as creating one entirely from scratch.
The result has been a site everyone is very happy with. Not only has the client received positive comments from customers, but sales figures back up a good increase in conversion rates, meaning all this hard work and investment will over the course of time pay for itself.
For those of you who are interested in my next post I’ll go into more details about the actual design process and how one takes a theme like this and turns it into a bespoke design.