Early this month Barnes and Noble announced that CEO William Lynch has stepped down. The move naturally led to a recap of his three years with Barnes and Noble; a recap that doubled as a summary of what the digital era has done to America’s largest bookstore chain.

The story of Barnes and Noble, or even the story of William Lynch, is also the story of how businesses, even incredibly large and established industries, are struggling to place the internet in their business models. You may not realize it, but it’s also the story of how you will go about making the best design for your mobile or web e-commerce site.

Balancing Digital and Traditional
The failure of William Lynch to maximize technology for the bookstore is surprising considering that he came from an e-commerce background: Lynch held high-ranking positions in successful e-commerce companies. The Nook tablets were conceptualized during his term as CEO, aimed initially at being a supplement to the retail business. However, it was also during his term that Nook sales have fallen 34% and the shopping experience on the Barnes and Noble website has consistently ranked between awful and annoying.

That is where William Lynch has appeared to fail. A company whose raison d’etre is the retail of books, which means creating a superb purchasing experience, trying at the same time to enter a technology space with a tablet offering, resulted in focus being spread thin. When Barnes and Noble should have focused on the customer experience on both of these channels, mobile (the Nook) and online (website) and the store, Lynch has instead left a company divided in customer experience.

Lessons from Barnes and Noble
What can be seen from the story of Barnes and Noble is that e-commerce sites, both mobile and online, should be nothing more than another channel for a business to sell its products. Businesses tend to overlook the fact that e-commerce is merely a result of upholding the core value of what makes a business successful: customer experience first. Let’s take a quick recap of the things you need to do so that the customer experience is superb:

1. The Golden Rule of Marketing: You are where your market is. Literally.
This is the rule that birthed e-commerce. Since everyone of some purchasing power owns a phone and near 100% of how we consume information is via the internet, it became apparent that the consumers are online all the time, via mobile and desktop.

2. Thus, you have to be sure that your market really has moved.
This requires you knowing your consumers like the back of your hand, so that you know where they would end up. Is your target market young and hip, easy to adapt to mobile and online applications? It would be a good idea to develop applications they may be able to use. Or is your target market old and stodgy, just recently learning how to use Facebook? Then it would be a good idea to focus on the website only.

How will all this help with your mobile and website design?
From your market knowledge you have decided that mobile and/or online commerce is your future. Now you have to realize that the principles of good salesmanship and commerce must be the template from which you will base the development of your mobile and online commerce platforms. And a responsive design for e-commerce websites and mobile application is a way to put into practice the principles of salesmanship.

Sales and Responsive Design
To quote Ethan Marcotte, responsive design is, in a nutshell: “Rather than tailoring disconnected designs to each of an ever-increasing number of web devices, we can treat them as facets of the same experience.” In other words, it’s making sure that experience on the website, tablet, smartphone, or any other form of media is the same.

And just like in traditional sales, people want their experience to be consistent across all the branches they visit. Thus, if you have a beautiful website, your mobile site must be equally beautiful as well. If you offer superior customer service by making sure the customer gets what they want with the least amount of effort, your customer should be able to get what they want in the least amount of clicks, scrolling, reading, and searching as possible. One of the Top 25 Responsive Websites of 2012 from Netmagazine.com is BBC, since mobile news is one of the greatest things about mobile internet.

via NetMagazine

Like in traditional sales, you have to know what your customer wants, so if at the onset you think that your target market will primarily be mobile, make sure to design your e-commerce experience mobile first, so that website implementation will be easier. Fitting a website design into a mobile site design is harder and more disruptive than the other way around.

Lastly, like in traditional sales, the sales and the purchase experience is about, well, experience. Unless it’s what you’re going for, peeling wallpaper, dusty shelves, and stained uniforms distract the customer from the pleasure of shopping. If your website and mobile site does not resize to fit the resolution of the phone or does not work in some browsers, you ruin some part of the whole shopping experience for the customer.

The same concept can also be said for images in the website. Customers would want to see or at least get an idea of what the products they’re looking for look like. This detail needs to be highlighted as images are a great way to reel in customers. One good example of a site integrating this is British-owned business Nationwide Home Innovations.

via Nationwide Ltd.

E-commerce sites like these, even those who offer custom-made products, need to have their images translated greatly to mobile because it can ultimately make or break a sale. In the case of Nationwide Home Innovations, the home improvement industry is still shifting from the traditional (TV or print) to the digital (computers, mobile, etc). Thus, integrating a responsive design to their website means they’re a step ahead against their competitors.

Now what?
At the end of this rambling article, it is this thought that bears repeating: customer experience first. And the best way to execute customer experience first in your e-commerce channels is through responsive design. Don’t be like Barnes and Noble. Keep the customer experience at your crosshairs.