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Mobile has profoundly transformed the way merchants and customers interact. The technology has opened up unprecedented possibilities for improved customer experience, personalized interactions—sometimes in real time—and greater revenue. However, enterprises are struggling to provide an optimal mobile experience for their customers, while keeping website maintenance costs low.

The rapid proliferation of mobile devices—smartphones, tablets, and wearables, as well as other mobile devices used in-store—has an impact on the various sales channels currently offered. This article will explore and define the three fastest-growing trends for addressing ecommerce through the mobile web and provide the pros and cons of each: Responsive Web Design (RWD), Adaptive Web Design (AWD), and a blended approach known as RESS.

Currently, these are the three approaches to address ecommerce across multiple mobile devices. What’s the difference? What should you use and why? Let’s take a look at each approach.

Responsive Web Design

If the goal is to create a single fluid website that will respond to the user’s device, allowing a well-designed experience to work on a wide range of screen sizes—from the smallest smart phone to the largest desktop, and every tablet or laptop in between—then Responsive Web Design is a great way to go.

Using CSS and Java Script to modify the presentation of pages to fit a user’s screen, RWD is what’s known as a client-side approach. The technology behind RWD is built into the front-end of the website and executed on the user’s device. Server-side changes are not needed and no redirects or third parties are required. Let’s look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of RWD.


  • Efficiency through focus: Business, design and development teams are focused on one project, optimizing your team’s efficiency and creating a simplified calendar of release cycles.
  • Future-proof design: Flexible design does not require re-work when new devices are released (larger phones, smaller tablets, etc.). This means you’ve got a future-proof design and better reach to non-desktop devices.
  • A consistent experience: RWD can deliver a seamless user experience across devices. It’s all the same site – it is simply displayed in a way that’s responsive to different devices. A consistent experience can help you reinforce a positive brand impression and drive higher conversions.
  • Stronger SEO: Having just one URL for each page can drive higher search rankings and avoid the SEO dilution that can happen when you’ve got multiple sites serving the same content.
  • Unity of integration: User accounts and data do not require complicated synchronization across devices. A logged-in user sees the same account on every device.
  • Easier reporting and web analytics: Because there’s no need to combine data from multiple sites, reporting and analytics are easier to manage on a single RWD site.


  • Challenging method: Designing for RWD can be challenging. If your developers aren’t well versed in it, it can be tough to learn.
  • Hard to find talent: RWD is a new technique. There’s a limited pool of developers who can do it well.
  • Coordination is a must: Process changes require more collaboration between design and development teams.
  • Can take longer: RWD requires increased development and QA time compared to a single static site.
  • Longer loading time: If responsive images are not used and the site is not built correctly for all screens, the site can be slow on mobile devices.

Adaptive Web Design

The server-side approach, on the other hand, is Adaptive Web Design, in which users on different devices are served different content. For example, a company sends users on mobile devices to a different domain that serves content from a different module. By sending different content, the user experience can differ significantly from the desktop site.


  • Easy to offer different experiences: While delivering a consistent experience on all platforms has real benefits, in some instances, you might want to offer different experiences to users on different devices. With AWD, this is easy to do.
  • Standard operating procedure: Building static sites one by one is more familiar to business, design and development teams.
  • Faster load times: Site performance is optimized to each site separately, resulting in faster load times for mobile devices.
  • Less-expensive outsourcing: Outsourcing to a third party can be cost-effective if non-desktop segments are not expected to generate revenue or if a seamless user experience is not a priority.


  • Different experiences: It’s pretty difficult to keep everything in sync. You’re almost guaranteed to have different user experiences on different devices.
  • Divided attention: Business, design and development teams’ attention is split on multiple sites and projects.
  • Multiplied maintenance: All maintenance and release work is multiplied by the number of sites.
  • Labor-intensive reporting and analytics: Business reporting and web analytics are in multiple systems and require business resources to gather and combine data manually.
  • Potentially more development: New devices in the market may require new sites or re-designs.
  • Complicated back-end integration: User accounts and data are not shared across sites without significant engineering effort.
  • Multiple device use is a challenge: Activity across devices requires engineering effort to handle complex interactions (mobile URL opened on desktop, or vice versa).
  • Takes longer: Increased development and QA time is required as compared to a single static site.
  • Reduces SEO: When content is split across multiple sites/URLs, SEO suffers.

Blended Web Design: Responsive With Server Side Components

A third method for mobile design strategy is Responsive with Server Side Components (RESS), which blends both responsive design and adaptive delivery. For example, using an RESS approach, users on mobile devices can receive a header and footer that’s customized to their device, but there’s still just one website to serve multiple devices. This decreases the overall footprint of the download and can reduce the processing that has to happen on the client. Essentially, RESS combines the best of RWD and AWD.


  • Simplicity: With RESS, it’s just one site—just like RWD—so if you have the skills, it’s simpler to build and maintain and it delivers a consistent user experience across all devices.
  • Reduced burden, improved performance: Having custom components delivered to different devices can reduce the client-side processing burden and improve performance.


  • Very few developers: If the talent pool for RWD is limited, the number of developers who’ve mastered RESS is even more limited. This will change over time, but given the benefits of RESS development, it might be worth going the extra mile to find developers who have mastered this new approach.

Creating Engaging Mobile Experiences

Three approaches, three sets of benefits and drawbacks. For most organizations, though, RWD offers the best bang for the buck. Since there are few companies with the capital to invest in constant maintenance of multiple code bases, RWD offers an efficient and economical way of optimizing your current website to meet the demands of ever-changing screen sizes and resolutions. Many of the drawbacks of the RWD approach can be greatly minimized or completely eliminated with the right team using the RWD framework.

But the benefits keep coming. These include easier integration, reduced development costs, simplified maintenance and a consistent user experience – without running into the performance issues that can plague client-side processing.

For those who find that their traffic is primarily tablet-based, and have limited resources, an AWD approach could be a reasonable interim phase before making the move to RWD or RESS in the future. Although an RESS approach offers additional benefits it can be more costly and requires a special skill set to be executed correctly.

Whichever approach you take initially, a long-term, strategic view is important. How will customers and prospects experience your brand via your online presence? What effect will this have on your reputation and your bottom line? People are trying to access your sites by a variety of devices; will they like what they see? Will the sites load in an acceptable amount of time? These are all considerations as you choose an approach to deliver greater engagement via mobile.

If you’d like to learn more on this topic, you can download the entire white paper by clicking here.