Quietly, but quickly, the landscape is shifting for ecommerce vendors. Meeting customers’ needs was easy when orders were placed exclusively from desktop computers. Vendors needed one website for a single, broad category of computer.

But the world is changing, and fast. Today, customers use laptops, smartphones, tablets, even iPad minis, to browse, order and buy online.

Web connections have become embedded into almost every new electronic device – TVs, cameras, cars and more. So ecommerce websites must work effectively on every screen if they’re to meet customer needs and survive.

How does this new multi-screen world work?

Let’s say I am searching online for new books to read. This year I have a lot of travel and want to make the most of my time on planes and in airports. On the way to the airport I’ll browse various websites from my iPhone.

I’ll find a few options that I like, Thinking Fast and Slow looks great, just as I arrive at the airport. So, I send myself an email with links to a few web pages and reviews.

I also have a friend named Rob who reads a book a week and has tastes similar to mine, so I share some links with him on Facebook to see if he’s read it.

The following day I’m at my hotel in Munich. I fire up my laptop, find my email and reopen the links in tabs to read reviews. I also have a message from Rob. He checked out the links on his iPad and replied with a link to the product page on Amazon to buy the e-book.

I do a quick search to compare prices. In a few minutes I’m ready to buy two copies of Thinking Fast and Slow – one for my e-book collection and one for our company library.

In this simple purchase I’ve used two device types (smartphone and laptop), consulted with a friend who used a third device (a tablet), and I accessed information in three ways: search, email and social media.

I’m not alone. Google says, “90% of people move between devices to accomplish a goal, whether that’s on smartphones, PCs, tablets or TV”.

Google research on the multi-screen world. 

(Source: Google’s The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-platform Consumer Behavior)

Enter the one web approach

One Web is a foundational website development principle for tackling today’s diverse, multi-screen world. You may or may not have heard of it yet, but One Web will soon be acknowledged as the only way to build modern and future-proof ecommerce websites.

One Web states that websites should maintain link integrity through URLs that work on all devices – desktop, mobile, tablet, and gadgets we haven’t even imagined yet.

Let’s see the One Web principle in action in my Thinking Fast and Slow shopping experience. I used two very different devices – my iPhone and laptop. Plus, I had a friend use a third device, an iPad. This multi-step, multi-screen shopping experience is not unusual.

Nor are the different tactics I used to maintain my search across devices: search, email and social media. It’s typical, as reflected by this data from Google:

Google research on the multi-screen world. 

What knitted all the threads of my shopped experience together? Consistent links. Links that always worked connected my search across devices and sessions, without subdomains, redirects or device-specific dead-end experiences.

One Web is essential for ecommerce vendors to understand and adhere to because it responds to the fluid ways customer use their websites. Other mobile approaches, like M-dot websites for mobile and T-dot websites for tablets that redirect visitors to device-specific microsites, are dead ends.

In contrast, websites that adhere to the One Web principle work for all customers on all devices, in all the ways they want to use them.

One web approaches: responsive and adaptive design

Today, building a website according to the One Web principle means following either a responsive or adaptive design approach.

Responsive design uses CSS media queries to change the presentation of a website based on the size of the device display. In other words, a responsive website sizes correctly to fit the screen, not matter what size it is.

Starbucks uses responsive design. Disney, Sony and Indochino all use responsive design for their ecommerce websites.

Adaptive design builds on responsive design. It uses JavaScript to enrich responsive websites with advanced functionality and customization. For instance, adaptive websites deliver Retina-quality images only to Retina displays while standard-definition displays get light images.

The result is enhanced performance, finer-grained website management and delivery of the very best user experiences, no matter which device your customer uses.

Choosing the right One Web approach – responsive or adaptive – requires careful consideration of context and returns, customer requirements and available resources.

Either way, the One Web approach ensures that your ecommerce website reflects the flexible use patterns of customers across devices – desktops, smartphones, tablets and more – and future-proofs your website against the growing complexity of our multi-screen world.