The Global Digital Report from We Are Social paints a vivid – and encouraging – picture of an interconnected globe, where a staggering 5.44 billion folks (you heard it right, and that’s almost 65% of the total population) have access to a mobile.

It’s true, there are many that might be scrolling through endless feeds of cat videos (though, admittedly, that’s good fun too), but looking at eCommerce stats, a lot more use their gadgets to shop through the ‘magic windows’ of their phones. This seamless fusion of convenience and commerce is turning our phones not only into just smart, but also into our most loyal shopping companions.

We’re experts in eCommerce development services and we’re here to help you choose the right solution for your business.

With over 5 billion individuals wielding the power of mobile devices as their primary gateway to the internet, the necessity for online shops to be mobile-optimized cannot be overstated.

So, as we march into this new world of digital commerce where shopping for your favorite pair of sneakers while lounging in your pajamas, coffee in one hand, phone in the other is the new norm, let’s have a look at all the choices merchants have to prepare their online shops for the smartphone era.

The Importance of Website Mobile Optimization

In a time where the majority of internet users access the web via smartphones and tablets, the website’s ability to adapt seamlessly to various screen sizes and orientations has become a critical determinant of user satisfaction.

This adaptability is even more critical when it comes to online shops, where mobile responsiveness not only facilitates ease of navigation and improves readability but also significantly influences purchasing decisions. 

When images load chaotically, overlapping text, it makes the content difficult to read.  Menus and buttons not designed for touch can be too small or too close together, making it challenging for users to tap the option they intended. All these shortcomings will frustrate users, making them abandon the site in favor of a more navigable alternative.

Additionally, mobile devices often rely on wireless connections, which can be slower or more inconsistent than wired connections. Large, unoptimized images and resources can cause significant delays in page loading times, testing the patience of users accustomed to swift digital interactions.

Moving away from the user’s negative experience, there are also other issues stemming from a lack of mobile optimization. Google’s mobile-first indexing underscores the importance of mobile responsiveness, directly impacting a website’s search engine ranking and visibility.

Making a mobile-responsive website

Due to all the reasons described above, designing a mobile website, even if it is a mirror of its desktop counterpart, needs to be a complete stand-alone process, centered on the user’s needs and expectations. Mobile users, often pressed for time and patience, demand quick-loading content and are more likely to abandon a site that lags, in contrast to desktop users who might be more forgiving. Thus, prioritizing swift loading times from the get-go is not just beneficial but necessary for a mobile-responsive web application, ensuring users remain engaged and satisfied.

There are some essential features that a mobile-responsive website should have. First of all, the text should be readable and the content aesthetically pleasing while still fitting the smaller screen size.

Second, images and buttons should be visible and accessible to the user. It can be very frustrating trying to click a tiny and badly formatted login next item/page button. Users can often give up on using the website altogether out of annoyance at out-of-place buttons. Therefore developers should make large, visible, and easy-to-click buttons when designing a mobile-responsive website.

Working on the view orientation is also key, as mobile users will frequently switch between landscape and vertical views as they look at web content. 

The last, but probably the most important requirement, as nowadays attention spans especially for mobile users are really short, is making the website light so that it loads quickly and smoothly.

Creating a mobile-responsive website involves using a range of technical strategies to ensure that content displays optimally across various devices, from smartphones to tablets to desktops. Key among these strategies are flexible grids, responsive images, and media queries, each playing a distinct role in adapting a site’s layout and content to fit different screen sizes and resolutions.

Flexible grids are foundational to responsive design and by using relative units like percentages for widths instead of absolute units like pixels, they allow the layout of a website to fluidly adjust according to the screen size. 

Using responsive images that adjust seamlessly to fit the display area, ensures that images are not too large for the screen (which could slow down page load times) or too small (which could appear pixelated). This is achieved through CSS techniques that serve different image sizes based on the viewport dimensions, or newer HTML attributes like srcset and sizes, which instruct the browser on which version of an image to load based on the screen size and resolution.

Media Queries are extremely powerful tools because they allow designers to apply styles based on specific conditions, such as the width, height, or orientation of the viewport. By defining breakpoints in the CSS, designers can trigger different stylesheets or CSS rules that adjust the layout, font sizes, and navigation menus to deliver a tailored experience for the user’s device. For example, a media query might hide certain elements on smaller screens to reduce clutter or change the layout from a multi-column to a single-column format to improve readability.

During development, it’s essential to verify that the website performs as expected across a variety of devices. Tools like Browserstack’s Responsive Tool enable developers to simulate their website’s behavior on different devices and browsers directly from their workstations, ensuring that, when the work is done, the website is accessible and enjoyable for all users, regardless of their device or browser choice.

Beyond Optimization: The Role of Mobile Apps in E-Commerce

The strategic move to allocate a budget for app development comes when analytics show that a significant portion of the website traffic comes from mobile devices,  when businesses feel that they want to leverage advanced functionalities not available through web browsers and , most importantly, when the company is in a strong financial position. Because such an endeavor certainly doesn’t come cheap.

On the plus side, mobile apps allow for a more personalized shopping experience through complex features like push notifications, which can be used for targeted promotions and reminders, increasing customer retention and sales. Additionally, apps can access device features like the camera, GPS, and contact list, enabling functionalities like augmented reality shopping, easy location-based services, and social sharing, which can significantly enhance the user experience.

Moreover, by being installed on user’s handsets, they have direct access to their data, and can easily tailor product recommendations, search results, and content to individual preferences.

On the down side, the real issue with native apps is the high cost to market. Developing an app requires specialist knowledge. That’s why the option is favorized by already established brands, with a strong presence and solid finances.

Integrating Mobile Apps with Your Online Shop

A unified customer experience across a website and mobile app is crucial for building trust, brand recognition, and loyalty among users.

That’s why one of the most critical parts in app development is achieving a seamless integration with the online shop’s backend. This ensures that the data exchange between the app and the eCommerce platform is consistent and users have access to the latest information, whether they’re viewing product details, checking inventory, or tracking orders. 

Therefore, implementing a robust API (Application Programming Interface) is crucial. This API should be designed for scalability, ensuring it can handle increased loads as the app grows in popularity. 

Additionally, employing a microservices architecture will enhance flexibility and scalability by breaking down the backend into smaller, independently deployable services. This enables teams to update features or fix issues in one area without disrupting the entire system. 

Finally, implementing thorough testing and continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) practices ensures that updates to the app or backend do not disrupt the user experience, allowing for smooth, ongoing improvements.

Going hybrid – PWAs

Many are arguing that taking this hybrid path has great potential for the future. A PWA offers the same functionalities as a native app, but is written to run inside a web browser. 

The selling point is the fact that PWAs are usually faster and cheaper to build. Taking into consideration that it uses one single codebase for various platforms (with native apps, you will have to build a version for each platform – IoS and Android), PWAs have a great potential to replace native apps in the future.

The major eCommerce platforms – Magento/Adobe Commerce and Shopware – offer their own set of tools and libraries to build PWAs. There is still massive development taking place behind the scenes and highly experienced developers are sometimes even harder to find than Android and IoS developers, but this headless approach which provides a clear separation between the storefront and the server, is expected to generate a lot of interest in a mobile-first digital climate.

Mobile apps – leveraging technologies of the future

The new developments in AI, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Voice Search, will significantly impact ecommerce, offering new opportunities for businesses to engage with their customers in innovative ways.

Mobile apps are better suited for employing all these technologies in e-commerce for several reasons. First, mobile apps have direct access to a device’s hardware features, such as the camera, gyroscope, and accelerometer, which are crucial for AR and VR functionalities. This access allows apps to offer immersive experiences that can place virtual products in the real world or provide 3D product visualizations, enhancing the customer’s decision-making process. 

Second, mobile operating systems are designed to support high-performance graphics and real-time computing, ensuring smoother and more engaging AR and VR experiences compared to what can be achieved through web browsers. This is because browsers have limited access to device capabilities and may face performance constraints. Moreover, mobile apps can store data locally, reducing load times and dependency on internet connectivity, which is essential for the heavy data use associated with AR and VR content. 

Lastly, the development frameworks and tools available for mobile app development are often more advanced in supporting AR and VR technologies, offering libraries and APIs specifically designed for these purposes.

Final thoughts

Either employing the simplest choice – optimizing websites for mobile devices – or considering the much more complex one, the development of mobile apps, both are strong signs that merchants are acknowledging the fact that the future of eCommerce is mobile. 

If website responsiveness is somehow sufficient in present times, in future, the constant growing dominance of mobile over desktop usage will make having a Progressive Web App (PWA) or a mobile application a fundamental requirement for eCommerce companies, ensuring accessibility and competitiveness in an increasingly mobile-first market.

If you want to know more about our list of services at Clever++, please visit our website.