Almost 50% of consumers use their smartphone to search for products and services online. Over 5.2 billion people around the world use the mobile Internet. These usage trends have caused a shift in UX design philosophy, bringing the smallest screens to the fore. Ecommerce sites that are striving for long-term success must prioritize the mobile experience.
What Is Mobile-First Design?
Mobile-first design is an approach to Web-site design and development that is based on a simple premise: initially creating digital products and services for the screens of mobile devices, then adapting them for the desktop. Previously, bigger screens had been our starting point. This new emphasis on mobile user interfaces creates a superior experience for our users.
Designing and prototyping Web sites for mobile devices first enables UX designers and developers to ensure a seamless experience. Now, when designers need to sketch out a Web-site layout, they begin by creating it on mobile, then expand it for larger screens.
This concept has been around for a decade. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, first brought into the spotlight. At a conference in 2010, he announced that the company’s UX designers would henceforth prioritize the experience of mobile users, saying, “You should always put your best team … on your mobile app.”
His rationale was quite simple: mobile designers must deal with more limitations. Because the screens of mobile devices are smaller, it is possible to fit only so many elements onto them. Therefore, designers must choose to include only truly essential features. You can expand designs for smaller screens over time, but the mobile-first philosophy provides a clear vision of the core elements.
What Is the Difference Between Adaptive Design and Mobile-First Design?
Mobile-first design is not the only approach to design, but it solves many of the issues that adopters of other approaches have encountered. For example, adaptive design, in which the designer compiles different combinations of layouts, can result in mobile pages that look worse than the desktop versions of the same pages. Let’s see how these two approaches compare. In the adaptive approach, each Web-page layout uses a different placement of elements to adapt to specific screen sizes, as follows:
For smartphones—With 4- to 6-inch screens.
For tablets—With 7- to 11-inch screens.
For desktop computers—With 12-inch or greater screens.
When a user clicks a Web address, the browser first defines the characteristics of the user’s screen—size, resolution, and aspect ratio—before displaying a page that has the corresponding dimensions. However, the quality of the user experience may suffer with this approach, so it may soon become obsolete.
In mobile-first design, the designer first places essential content elements such as buttons and calls to action (CTAs), within the limited space of a smartphone screen. This focus ensures the accessibility and viewability of pages—even when users are on the go. By going from smaller to bigger screens—from mobile to the desktop—UX designers can create a better user experience.
Pros and Cons of Mobile-First Design
Most consumers are inseparable from their mobile device, so you might suppose that adopting the mobile-first philosophy would be a no-brainer. However, even this approach has some limitations and caveats, so not all designers are willing to adopt this approach. To make your own decision about whether you should adopt mobile-first design, consider the pros and cons of this design and development process, which I’ll discuss next.
Advantage #1: Quick Access to Relevant Information for Visitors
Mobile-first design requires UX designers to prioritize the most valuable content. Visitors searching for particular information can find it more easily whatever device they use.
Mobile-first Web sites give visitors instant access to high-quality content, so visitors can make decisions on the go. Because the mobile-first philosophy highlights the most important pieces of information, more convenient, efficient browsing contributes to greater customer satisfaction.
Advantage #2: Fewer Bugs
Mobile versions of Web sites require less code, which translates into a lower probability of bugs. When developers start with something complex and code heavy, then reduce the amount of code, more things can potentially go wrong. By focusing on the mobile experience, you can prevent and detect problems more easily.
Advantage #3: Better for Search-Engine Optimization (SEO)
Since mid-2018, page-load speed has been a Google ranking factor for mobile searches. Fast-page loads are paramount. Not only do pages rank higher in search results, they gain greater visibility and more organic traffic. Users are also more likely to stay on your site! Most visitors abandon pages that take more than three seconds to load. This is a well-known fact. So your competitors are likely enhancing their Web sites to ensure their pages load more quickly. Pages that were initially built for mobile load more quickly than their desktop-first counterparts—in part because they include fewer elements.
Google now uses a mobile-first index for new Web sites so its crawlers prioritize pages that were initially designed for smaller screens. For example, if your site runs on WordPress or Shopify, Googlebot considers its mobile version. By default, compact sites rank higher.
A better quality user experience also contributes to the success of your SEO efforts. Although design is not the only criterion, you are more likely to move ahead of your competition by adopting this progressive approach.
Disadvantage #1: A Smaller Design Canvas
Mobile screens provide less room for designers’ and developers’ creativity. The majority of Web designers are used to design projects for desktop-sized screens so feel the limitations of this approach. The mobile-first approach limits their arsenal of tools, too, so they might feel restricted. But this is really a matter of personal perception. You can easily find a team that specializes in mobile-first technologies and welcomes the challenges they pose.
Disadvantage #2: Uncertainty for Your Clients
Companies that employ this approach might have problems communicating with their clients. They won’t be able to show their clients how their Web site would work on the desktop in advance. For business owners with a conservative mindset, switching to this philosophy could be challenging.
Disadvantage #3: Training Time and Costs
The mobile-friendly approach is still a relatively novel method, so it requires a special kind of expertise and understanding. If your team has no training in this approach, you might need to hire additional resources or outsource the work.
Mobile-First Ecommerce Sites Increase Their Conversion Rates
The goal of any business with an online presence is to boost sales, which requires higher conversion rates. The mobile-first philosophy can make a dramatic difference in your conversion rates. Because Web pages load faster, Web sites are easier to navigate and search, and Web pages rank higher in organic search results, they are more conducive to higher conversion rates.
Mobile user experiences already account for over 54% of all ecommerce sales. But customers who find mobile shopping convenient are in the minority. This means there is still plenty of room for improvement, and mobile-first sites are a good solution.
Shopping apps and social networks have made buying on the go more convenient. But their downside is that developing a custom app for ecommerce is often an expensive endeavor, particularly when you do the development in house. Mobile Web sites are often more affordable and take less time to build.
Nevertheless, many brands are still lagging behind and hesitate to embrace the mobile-first vision. They think primarily in terms of the desktop experience, then try to squeeze large layouts into smaller screens. As a result, they fail to meet the needs of the mobile-savvy consumer.
Why You Should Design a Mobile-First Ecommerce Site
As you can see, developing a Web site that is not only mobile friendly but is a mobile-first design is preferable for many reasons. The pros clearly outweigh the cons. Here are the most salient arguments in favor of this approach.
1. Accommodating Most Web Users' Preferences
Today, the majority of consumers prefer mobile devices to notebooks and personal computers (PCs). This well-known fact means you can reach a wider audience and generate more sales by prioritizing small screens. Most people never let their phone out of their sight. Handheld devices are more convenient for online activities, including the discovery of new products and services.
By adopting the mobile-first philosophy, you can reach customers wherever they are and provide a superb experience on any screen. You can make your services more accessible, provide an excellent user experience, and rank higher in organic search results.
2. Putting Your Customers First
The mobile-first philosophy is customer centric. It focuses on ensuring a flawless customer journey. To boost customer loyalty and turn visitors into brand advocates, you must align everything you do with this goal. Designing a Web site for mobile access is the first step in this direction.
This is also crucial to staying competitive because customer expectations are increasing every day. With a flawless Web site for smaller screens, you send a clear message to your existing and prospective customers. If they feel that you value their convenience, they’re more likely to make purchases on your site.
3. Making Your Web Site More Pleasing to the Eye
Today, exquisite web aesthetics are a must. Beginning with mobile design is preferable to downsizing a desktop version. Scaling down a Web site requires that you rearrange all of a Web page’s elements, but not redesign them. This may result in translation errors.
Desktop-first sites may have a subpar appearance and overly complicated navigation. Performance-engineering quality can also suffer. In comparison, the mobile-first approach requires that you begin with a minimalist design. Your team will eliminate redundant features early on.
Mobile-first design gives you a clear vision of what truly matters and drives success. You can then expand your design on the desktop. Web sites that teams have created in this manner are more aesthetically pleasing and retain more users.
4. Prioritizing Content Through Mobile-First Design
The need to fit essential elements into a smaller space dictates that you prioritize content. Because the screens are small, you must eliminate clutter. Analyze any feature in terms of its value and functionality. This requires a clear understanding of the needs and preferences of your visitors.
Designers and developers who take a mobile-first approach choose to include only the most vital information and declutter design elements and content ruthlessly. As a result, users can navigate their Web sites with ease, find what they’re looking for, and place their orders without a hitch. A straightforward e-store caters to time-conscious consumers and their attention span increases.
5. Gaining an Additional Competitive Edge
Despite the clear benefits of prioritizing for the mobile experience, many businesses are still hesitant to adopt this approach. Therefore, by embracing design for smaller screens early, you can gain an advantage over your conservative-minded rivals.
In addition, you can also broaden your reach. The majority of consumers are more likely to explore new stores from the screen of their smartphone or tablet rather than their notebook or PC. This means your brand becomes more accessible by default.
Of course, to overshadow your competition, you need to provide an experience that meets your customers’ expectations. This requires high-quality mobile development and a reputation that is based on a proven track record of success. If your Web site does not live up to customers’ expectations, is missing important features, or loads too slowly, this can be a major turnoff for customers.
6. Going Mobile-First Increases Revenues
Last, but not least, building your Web site for smaller screens is an ideal solution for business continuity. If you want to stay in the ecommerce sector and thrive, you need to meet your customers’ needs. A high-quality Web site enables you to hit your sales targets much faster because your users find it more attractive and convenient and efficient to use.
Another reason why mobile sales are growing is search-engine optimization. As I’ve shown, Google favors compact Web sites. As your site ranks higher in search results, more users notice your brand, visit your store, and buy from you. With the mobile-first approach, organic traffic is more likely to drive your sales because your site provides a superior user experience in comparison with a desktop-first platform.
Global technology trends perpetually change at a breakneck speed, but the key criterion for ecommerce success remains the same: to drive profits, loyalty, and brand awareness, you must deliver an excellent user experience. All elements of your Web site must work in harmony, load quickly, and help users to find what they need. Adopting the mobile-first approach is the best way to achieve these goals.
Beginning your design and development process focused on the compact space of a smaller screen can help you identify the key elements that drive conversions. Get rid of the clutter that would only hinder your user experience. By focusing on the needs of smartphone users, you can increase your brand’s visibility online and build a huge, loyal audience that can deliver profits for years to come.