With more and more websites seeing the majority of their visits from mobile devices and Google paying more attention to mobile friendliness, it's no surprise that the small-screen experience is top of the agenda for companies.

In a blog post, Paribus, a company that aims to help consumers get money back when products they purchase online drop in price, pointed to an interesting example of how desktop and mobile experiences can vary in significant ways.

When Paribus began investigating why one of its users never seemed to apply discount codes to his orders even though they were prominently displayed on the websites he was ordering from, it noticed that those discount codes weren't prominently displayed on mobile.

In fact, at one point in time on the Banana Republic website, a 40% discount code wasn't displayed to mobile users at all.

Oversight, discrimination or smart business?

As Paribus sees it, this had a discriminatory effect. The customer "had no idea he was being charged 40% more than everyone else," Paribus' Eric Glyman argued.

Of course, it's entirely possible that the issue was the result of oversight.

When adding content to a responsive site, there's always the potential that something will be missed, resulting in content not being visible across all resolutions.

And even when content is displayed across all resolutions, screen real estate can dictate that it's displayed more or less effectively, as can be seen in other discount code examples. 

It's also possible that Banana Republic made a conscious decision not to display the discount code in question on mobile. For example, it's conceivable that in some instances, a retailer would opt to provide greater incentives to only some users based on the knowledge that it didn't need to provide those incentives to others to get the desired results.

Just as dynamic pricing has been the source of controversy, such behavior might leave a bad taste in one's mouth, but it increasingly takes place in some form because it's smart business for companies to use data to optimize their results.

At the end of the day, it's clear that there's often a strong rationale for there to be differences between desktop and mobile experiences, but that doesn't mean companies shouldn't be thoughtful about just how different they allow these experiences to be. 

Retailers don't succeed solely by maximizing individual transactions. They succeed when they maximize customer relationships, and the lifetime value of those customer relationships can easily be affected over time if customers have drastically different experiences based on the devices they prefer to shop with.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 September, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (9)

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Jim Hunter, Consultant at VersionUX

Great question, this has consistently (!) frustrated me as a user. Why should I have to learn a
completely different site just cos the company in question has a separate mobile strategy or outsourced this piece of work or thought "let's do something whizzy for mobile". 50% of UX is convention and familiarity and mobile experiences benefit from a cut-down but consistent UI and IA - tuck away the noise in the menu. Difficult may be but no excuse to build a completely different experience that makes internal stakeholders feel clever and external ones feel annoyed.

almost 3 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

This is a really interesting discussion point but I think the article only begins to scrape the surface in understanding what a 'consistent' experience should be.

Within the travel sector, if you talk to most companies, they see a huge wealth of traffic from mobile, and in particular smartphone, devices but for anything that requires research and an extended thought process, users are still unlikely to book on their mobile devices, be that because of the screen size, the Internet connectivity away from WIFI zones it just simply that they feel more comfortable taking the time to do so in a (largely desktop or tablet focused) environment where they feel less time pressured and can make sure they've happy before spending their hard earned money.

The problem that presents is actually knowing for each user on a mobile website, what their intention is when they arrive at the site. So many companies have prioritised their search and book journey but if we know customers aren't likely to convert, maybe this is a little short sighted.

The difficulty remains - how do we link customers, anonymously (given it's the early day prospects that are our main concern here and in an ever more skeptical world, people aren't that keen to sharp their personal details with every company under the sun) , across multiple devices so that we can better personalise their experience to help a customer find what they want when they visit us...

almost 3 years ago

James Beeson

James Beeson, Strategy Director at CDD

Really excellent points Matt. It's a multi-faceted issue, because it's not only what device is being used, but also at what point in the evolving 'relationship' the user is - so there's a time dimension to this too. Personalisation (which unfortunately means different things to different people) is the key here, but personalisation is only as good as the intelligence and learning that drives it, and that is something we are striving hard to understand for our clients. In general, the 'responsive web' has been a good kickstarter for widescale mobile device support, but for me there is a strong argument for something a little less of a blunt instrument.

almost 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

If one category of shoppers sees content and another doesn't, it's entirely possible that this is the result of personalization and multivariate testing.

For example, if a brand learns that coupons have a positive ROI on desktop, but negative on mobile, then it is quite right to only show them only on desktop and use the space freed up on mobile for something that works better.

Surely nobody would expect a brand to persist with a marketing tactic that's not working well, when it could switch to one that works better?

A good example is that we're launching a coupon smart block next week, so you can show personal coupons selectively to shoppers, depending on their profile, engagement level, purchase history, and (yes) their device and channel. The idea is that brands can encourage newcomers and reward regular buyers - much like supermarkets do with coupons printed in till receipts. The coupons will be displayed real-time in email, web and similar channels..

almost 3 years ago


Dan West, Digital Strategist at FCB New Zealand

To reiterate what the others above have stated, I think businesses should provide different experiences on a mobile and on a desktop. However those difference should add value to the consumer through personalisation etc and not penalise them. The thinking shouldn't be "how do we use consumer behaviour to maximise ROI" but "how do we use consumer behaviour to add value to them thereby maximising customer lifetime value and brand preference".

almost 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

@Dan West: those are the same thing.

almost 3 years ago

Greg Randall

Greg Randall, Director at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Great comments above guys!

I don't talk in terms of "desktop" experience vs "mobile" experience. Why? Consumers don't think this way. They don't consciously think about the devices they use in order to gather information and/or fulfill a need. Thinking desktop vs mobile or “mobile first” creates a siloed, fragmented experiences.

To avoid this requires a customer experience design planning process that is strategic in nature and lifts consumer journey creation above touchpoints. This allows brands to focus on aligning their selling process in a manner that is in keeping with how their target consumer wishes to buy from them. This alignment builds loyal happy customers.

Developing the customer experience design consists of three key parts:

Part 1: defining existing purchase behaviours from existing customers (speaking with front line staff, surveys, call center trending data, mystery shops)
Part 2: working through the right data to gain a deeper view of existing customer buying behaviours and understand why consumers are not buying, and
Part 3: mixing the learnings (the Art) from Parts 1 and 2 in with best practice usability (the Science) and build wireframes for all touchpoints.

(this is a very simplistic summary)

Parts 1 and 2 can be extremely deep dives and will vary by brand. The purpose is to force them to think about end to end information gathering and buy journeys. Part 3 is the translation of these end to end journeys across the touchpoints building continuity.

The personalisation part never comes right away for most brands. Once the customer experience design is in place, the ongoing use of the right data to define journey paths and making incremental changes to all touchpoints, enhances the paths that are working, and builds hypothesis to correct those that are not. This process is cyclical and assists with the development of personalisation. The more you know about how your customers buy the better you will be at presenting relevant content.

Thanks Patricio....great article.

almost 3 years ago

Alexander Levashov

Alexander Levashov, Director at Magenable

Very good point, from my experience it is more often ignorance rather than smart business practice. I've seen websites where statement about free delivery over $XX was not visible at mobile website for example.

almost 3 years ago

Jenna Ochoa

Jenna Ochoa, Director of Marketing at Blue Stout

Wow, great article and great comments!

I agree with @greg above. There's a lot of analytics that needs to happen to inform your team about if and how to design the experiences differently.

Mobile and desktop should necessitate different UX design because the users behave differently.

How you optimize those designs between desktop and mobile is a different conversation that should be informed by your analytics and marketing teams.

Here's a case study we just wrote about Walmart's responsive design and mobile optimizations: http://bluestout.com/blog/mobile-ecommerce-site-design-case-study/#responsiveisgood

about 2 years ago

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