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Study: Very Few Multichannel Retailers Use Responsive Design

Smartphone Shopping [1]

Recently, we published our second Mobile Experience Scorecard [2], which evaluated the mobile sites of 100 of the largest multichannel retailers in the United States.  Overwhelmingly, these multichannel retailers opted to implement dedicated mobile sites rather than responsive web design (RWD).  Of the 100 companies, 91 used dedicated mobile, just 1 used responsive web design, and the remaining 8 used the desktop version of their site.

Site Format Chart [3]

These results are not unlike those from our previous Mobile Experience Scorecard [4] report evaluating the Fortune 100, which demonstrated a similarly low proportion of sites using responsive web design, at just 9%.  This is surprising because RWD is Google’s recommended configuration [5] for rendering websites across different devices.  RWD’s SEO benefits are plentiful, so what is preventing companies both large and small from adopting it?   In an earlier blog post [6], we suggested that companies were slow to implement responsive web design because of slow load times.  Both of our reports provide data demonstrating that average load time for responsive design sites was significantly slower than for dedicated mobile sites.

Brandon Schakola, Senior Manager of Earned Media Strategy, argues that slow load times are a result of an overly heavy reliance on “Javascript band-aids to handle the responsive layout, rather than purely using CSS. Lack of minification of the JavaScript and CSS files also compound the situation.”  However, slow load times are just one piece of the puzzle in explaining RWD’s low adoption despite the industry’s enthusiastic support.

According to SEO architect Kirby Burke, companies are “slow to adopt RWD for a number of reasons, most of which are external and have little or nothing to do with the SEO value of RWD.” To elaborate on Kirby’s point, consider these challenges:

However, RWD is still the best solution and this is why Google endorses it.  Implementing RWD is ‘future proofing’ your site.  As devices continue to grow and change, maintaining one fluid site is absolutely necessary.  This ensures a positive user experience for users on current devices as well as devices that have yet to be released. RWD also reduces the burden on developers because they only have to maintain one site instead of several.”

Dedicated mobile sites may perform well now, but future changes in technology could render these mobile sites obsolete.  The choice between dedicated mobile sites and RWD is the choice between instant and delayed gratification.  While responsive web design is costly to implement initially and often leads to longer load times, it represents a greater return on investment in the future.  Slow load times can also be mitigated through the use of a few key strategies outlined by Kirby in an earlier blog post [7].

Check out our most recent Mobile Experience Scorecard on Multichannel Retailers [2] to see how some of the top multichannel retailers ranked and to find best practices for optimizing your site for mobile.