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Responsive design is a hot topic in web design at the moment, as it allows site owners to tailor content to any sized screen from a single set of code - which is obviously very useful as the mobile web continues to grow in popularity.

Yet it’s still quite difficult to find examples of retailers that have embraced the technology.

This is particularly true among the top retailers that tend cling to their existing mobile sites and apps rather than going responsive.

Though responsive design is an all-encompassing way of building your site rather than a mobile strategy per se, for the purposes of this post I thought it would be interesting to look at which of the top 20 UK retailers use responsive design compared to those who have a separate mobile site.

Here’s what I found out...

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon ranks alongside eBay as one of the brands that is ahead of the competition in terms of mobile commerce, and I’ve previously highlighted 12 reasons behind its huge success.

But though Amazon does have a mobile site (and a great app) it hasn’t adopted responsive design, potentially because of the huge amount of work that would be involved if it replatformed all of its products and services.

(Update: Amazon's site is in fact responsive - see comments for further details).

Argos

Though Argos has a mobile optimised site it hasn’t used responsive design. Furthermore, its mobile site isn’t transactional – instead customers can use reserve and collect or make a purchase through the desktop site.

Apple

Bizarrely, the company that revolutionised the smartphone still doesn’t have a mobile site.

Tesco

Tesco does have a mobile site, but it is hosted on a separate m. domain.

It’s a very user-friendly though and Tesco also has a great app, so I would be surprised if it moved to responsive design in the near future.

Next

Next definitely used to have a mobile site, as I analysed it as part of a blog post looking at mobile checkouts last year. However this morning I was routed to its desktop site, which definitely wasn’t responsive.

Play.com

You might assume that a pure play online retailer would have a mobile strategy, but it doesn’t.

Your M&S

As with Tesco, M&S uses a separate m. domain for its mobile site. The navigation appears to have been altered slightly since I last used it, which has actually made it more difficult to use.

In general there are a few too many options on M&S’s mobile site, which could potentially do with being simplified.

John Lewis

John Lewis also has a decent m. mobile site and a useful app, so I doubt it will make a major platform changes any time soon.

                      

ASOS

It has a mobile site, but under an m. domain rather than using responsive design.

Debenhams

Another retailer going down the m. domain route.

Thomson

Thomson doesn’t have a mobile site.

Expedia

Expedia has a mobile site but it hasn’t used responsive design.  

EasyJet

EasyJet launched its first mobile optimised site in July last year, but went for a separate m. domain rather than responsive design.

Therefore it’s highly unlikely to go responsive anytime soon.

Currys

At last, a retailer that uses responsive design. Prior to launching its new site in September last year Currys didn’t have a mobile offering, so its taken a brave step by becoming one of the first major retailers to go responsive.

The scaled down mobile version looks great, and displays large icons and calls-to-action that make it easy to navigate.

                      

One thing I’m not so keen on is way the homepage renders on a mobile screen – the user is forced to scroll past sales promotions, advertised products and recommended items before you get to the full list of product categories.

This may just be personal preference though, and Currys has presumably done user testing before deciding on the layout of the page.

Tesco Direct

Tesco Direct uses the same m. domain as the main site, but personally I don’t think the layout is as user-friendly as the grocery section.

Thomas Cook

Another travel brand with no mobile site. 

LoveFilm

LoveFilm has an app, but no mobile website.

Topshop

Topshop has an excellent mobile site – in fact I rated it as the best among the top 20 online retailers in a user test last May.

However it is hosted on an m. domain and doesn’t use responsive design.

                      

B&Q

B&Q has a very good mobile site, but it’s an m. domain.

New Look

Another brand with an excellent, user-friendly mobile site that uses a separate m. domain.

In conclusion...

Of the top 20 UK retailers, 14 of them have mobile sites (if you don’t include Next) but only Currys has opted for responsive design.

As responsive design is generally seen as the future of web design it may seem surprising that just one of these retailers has adopted it, but it’s still a relatively new technology and would require a massive investment if these brands chose to replatform their sites.

Most of these businesses have poured a huge amount of time and money into refining their current desktop sites while building separate mobile site and apps, so I think its unlikely that they will decide to throw it all away and move to responsive design in the near future.

Currys had the benefit of not having an existing mobile site, so it didn’t have to make the decision to write off any previous investment – it was a straight choice between building a separate mobile site or going responsive.

Presumably easyJet faced the same dilemma but decided to build a separate mobile site, perhaps due to the fact that its mobile strategy is based on the success of its apps rather than the mobile web.

Overall then, it’s unsurprising that only one of the top 20 UK retailers has adopted responsive design, and we probably shouldn’t expect to see any of its competitors following suit in the immediate future.

David Moth

Published 24 January, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1684 more posts from this author

Comments (13)

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dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

Very useful roundup - thanks, David!

Here are 2 tiny notes:

APPLE

As a little note: Apple UK was using 'responsive' at one point in a really limited manner. As TNW pointed out, this seemed to be purely for the purpose of suppressing their Samsung apology:

http://thenextweb.com/apple/2012/11/03/apple-hides-samsung-apology-on-its-uk-site-so-it-cant-be-seen-without-scrolling/

AMAZON

Amazon's site does use responsive design.

1. It's always been scalable depending on browser width (ie. it's not a fixed width site)
2. If you go to the homepage on a large screen, scale down, you'll notice the left-nav disappears.

Ie. They've chosen to be responsive, but chosen to be quite limited in the way they do it. I actually think that works quite well. 'Upwardly responsive' - ie. they have a site for mobile, and they have a site that works on 'tablet & upwards'. I vaguely mentioned that idea here: http://bit.ly/150homepages

Again - thanks a lot it's a really useful roundup.

dan

over 3 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

Hi Dan, thanks for pointing that out about Amazon - it's interesting that they use it on such a limited scale.

You can also notice it on the product pages as the text realigns and images are resized.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0083Q04M2/ref=amb_link_173059367_2?ie=UTF8&nav_sdd=aps&pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-1&pf_rd_r=0ZEDEZG0E2FZD7QR7W34&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=365400447&pf_rd_i=468294

over 3 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

@David - yep! that's what I meant by the scalable bit. There was a time when they used to get stick for that - seems to work very well for them.

Did you see the excellent 'Focus on the Long Term' interview with Jeff Bezos (blogs.hbr.org/ideacast/2013/01/jeff-bezos-on-leading-for-the.html)? Perhaps a very vague example of that.

over 3 years ago

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Danny

Most clients now ask for responsive design. The benefits are self explanatory. When smaller businesses know that larger businesses are doing something they want a piece of the action, very much like responsive design and how most websites will eventually be 'responsive'.

over 3 years ago

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David H

Hello all

Interesting article... I love responsive design... We designed and built this adaptive e-commerce from scratch: http://creadores.co.uk (we got a CSS Awards Nominee) and this one: http://joystickjunkies.com.

I'd like to point out something that is worth discussion:

So far when people talk about responsive design, nobody is covering the commercial realities faced with producing a responsive or adaptive design when the investment has already been made to go mobile for big and small brands alike.

Maybe alot of them jumped the mobile gun, but as a major brand, you have to keep up with the competition, hit the widest audience possible at the time or fall behind. Maybe in their eyes, they've ticked the mobile box and it's all running fine, and there is no more investment money until their cages are rattled. But it could be that others have development teams who say it's alot more support and dev work than we're currently are used to and the prices will increase, which would be fair.

Responsive and adaptive design brings a whole new way of producing web solutions, not just about development on the back and front end, but also design, everything has to visually work from mobile, smart TVs to retina macs - so resources obviously increase, as all these supported browsers need testing and maintaining. New modules need to be built or amended and others will never work again.

Responsive design has literally only really poked it's head out of the water towards the end of 2012 and I believe 2013 is it's year of getting seen. The BBC has done a great job with some of their new sites, but the BBC are more and more relying on the Internet to serve their content to stay afloat, so commercially it makes sense for all their sites to work across as many platforms as possible, even Smart TVs and games consoles or people will simply not consume their content. Supermarkets or brands with bricks and mortar will always be alot slower, as they're still vastly relying on footfall, others as I've already mentioned, just spent £X 1 or 2 years ago and need to see good ROI on their investment before more is spent on what is seen as pioneering work.

I have not seen 1 perfect example of responsive design when it comes to e-commerce, the designs are clunky, break in strange points and can be very slow to respond...

This is why we as a business focused on adaptive design during 2012, as it's alot easier to design e-commerce functionality without relying on 'posh' & 'slick' responsive cascading that's only when users play with their browsers - something most consumers and users will never do, as for them, it's all about the content - so you've done your job 100%, they've gone onto the site you've built, begun flawlessly using it without messing around with the browser size!

over 3 years ago

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James Rosewell

Responsive design makes a lot of sense when used with new web sites supporting a very simple proposition where the page content and navigation can be the same across all devices. Portfolio or blog web sites are a great example.

However many of the web sites mentioned in this article are neither brand new nor simple. The businesses are transactional requiring products to be selected, many products having different colour, size combinations, date or other selection requirements. These web sites are often supporting complimentary offline business models which involve driving foot fall to shops.

Now consider an iPhone has 5.6 square inches of viewing space. A 15 inch Mac Book Pro has 100 square inches of viewing space. Trying to create something that works equally well on both form factors is going to involve unacceptable compromise. For example; A big screen web site typically uses controls to choose products positioned around a central list of selected items. This big screen user interface won’t work on the small screen where a completely different user interface is required which breaks the selection process down into multiple more discrete pages.

Retailers, and any business with more than a portfolio web presence, would be mad to embrace responsive design alone. m. (or even t. for tablets, and tv. for televisions in the future) is way to go. How can responsive design be considered best practice when on its own it’s not going to work for so many businesses?

over 3 years ago

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Ryan Kaye, Head of Digital at Uniform

I am a big fan of responsive design, but I would argue that a separate mobile site is better for most large Ecommerce retailer's, particularly the multi-channel retailers simply because the content and features should be different.

Responsive design is great if your content is the same across multiple devices, so perfect for blogs or news sites, but for me it is important to understand where and how other devices are being used.

Shoppers are increasing using mobile in-store to compare prices and find more detailed information and reviews. I doubt retailers will ever put QR codes or barcode scanners on their desktop sites but Amazon have quite rightly implemented a barcode and price comparison function into their app. Another very popular user journey for mobile is just to find the postcode, phone number or opening hours for a store and this is often not as important for a desktop site, and with built in geo location something mobiles can do much better.

In summary I think it is very easy to get wrapped up in the industry buzzwords and trends and just because a client thinks they want a responsive design, we give them one. It should be about understanding the user needs and how they differ across device. Depending on the client and its the demographics of its customers responsive design may not be the right choice.

over 3 years ago

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Kieran Shanahan

Is there any insight as yet as to which route works better in terms of SEO and site ranking? I imagine that this will also colour the rate of adoption.

We've opted for responsive design based on a redesign for mobile upwards. By identifying user agent and screen resolution it serves the new mobile upwards (to tablet) design. The domain structure is exactly the same rather than on a separate site. Meanwhile the desktop site is unaffected. That is if we ever round to finishing off the project. unfortunately other projects have overtaken it for now.

over 3 years ago

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Craig McPheat

Tesco Bank actually utilise responsive design on their estate: http://www.tescobank.com

over 3 years ago

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Ed

This is a very unsatisfying article. I'm not bothered whether the network guy made a subdomain (I can find this out for myself) or whether someone was wooed by the latest agency chat on responsive design. There are practical and strategic reasons why companies go down certain routes. What would be far more edifying is a discussion of why separate sites are used; are there restrictions to responsive design; what are the merits of the m.sites you found, instead of mindless platitudes like "B&Q has a very good mobile site, but it’s an m. domain". If the UX, design and functionality are good, I don't care about the rest.

over 3 years ago

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Jeddah website maker

i think responsive design, its a very hot topic now a days, it depend on designing and development it response the user behavior and environment based on screen size.

over 3 years ago

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Sam

Responsive Web Design is latest idea to target every user you can.........As people are using different devices to browse the internet products......That's why a website should have responsive web design to serve on all kinds of devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, ipad, computers etc to cover up every potential audience easily......

over 3 years ago

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Frank Gibbs

Creating an effective Responsive Design site for large retailers isn't an easy task and while there's still debate around whether going responsive is better then custom building for each device it will probably take a while longer for them to take the plunge.

over 3 years ago

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