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Just How Important is Responsive Web Design for E-Commerce Websites?

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In the last 2-3 years, as internet use has become increasingly dominated by mobile devices, we’ve seen a significant increase in the implementation of responsive web design. A recent report has suggested that, on a global level, 60% of internet users do so either ‘mostly by mobile’ or ‘exclusively by mobile’. Just 11% of these surveyed browse the web ‘only by desktop’.

These statistics raise a number of questions for us as web designers, not least just how important is responsive web design for e-commerce websites?

Successful e-commerce website design is both an art and a science, requiring a combination of beautiful design and carefully assembled pages that help users find and purchase products with the minimum of hassle.

User Engagement

Even 12 months ago the percentage of smartphone users in the UK had reached 72%. This certainly isn’t limited to social media use either – over the Christmas period John Lewis experience peak transactions on Sunday evenings from tablet users. There is a sense in which successful e-commerce website design is simply a matter of effective user engagement: if your e-commerce website isn’t responsive, it’s going to be very difficult for you to engage users on mobile devices, and if you can’t engage users, you’re going to struggle to turn them into customers.

Anybody who has tried to use a desktop-orientated website using a smartphone will know just how frustrating it can be to try and find what you want. Just think how many pages users will have to navigate in order to find a product, add it to their basket and complete the transaction.

Conversion Rate

The conversion rate of your website – the percentage of site visitors who purchase your products – is dependent upon a number of factors. Whilst some of these apply to all e-commerce websites, such as your use of colour and the quality of your product photography, responsive web design can have a huge impact on your conversion rate.

US web design agency Electric Pulp, for example, tested a new responsive site for surf company O’Neill and experienced almost 600% growth in revenue on android devices. This was achieved by gearing the website for mobile users:

The “responsive conditions” were typical mobile patterns. We made the site fluid. We collapsed the primary navigation menu, allowing visitors to expand it by tapping a Menu link. We increased the size of the font, the tap areas and detail photos. We reduced the number of columns. We spent a lot of time just “fixing Magento forms.” Everything in a way that lets the O’Neill team continue to manage 100% of the content on the site.

Product Photography

One of the biggest changes that responsive web design brings to e-commerce websites is the use of product photography. Instead of giving users awkward, large images that are hard to view properly, optimised images ensure fast load times and make it much easier for mobile users to see what you’re selling.

Responsive web design also allows you to make much more of a feature of your product photography. It allows you to effectively incorporate the photography into your design, showing visitors the quality of what you’re selling and encouraging them to add products to your basket.


It’s worth underlining the fact that responsive web design alone won’t compensate for an otherwise ineffective e-commerce website. If you haven’t invested in superb product photography, effective branding, search engine optimisation, social media marketing and of course the products themselves then responsive web design is simply papering over the cracks.

However, if you think that you’ve done everything else to improve the quality of your site and still aren’t experiencing the results that you want then a responsive, mobile-friendly site might be the key to explosive growth and a significant increase in revenue.