Everything you need to know about Mobile-first UX Design in eCommerce

by: Zain Alami01/26/2023

Quick Summary More often than not successful eCommerce design projects adopt a mobile-first UX approach. What are the benefits of doing so? What does it really entail? How does it compare to other UX design schools? And what role does desktop UX play today?

Mobile devices have been at the forefront of the recent decade’s digitization. With mobile devices contributing to around 54 percent of total web traffic, it isn’t very surprising that the mobile-first strategy has taken hold of the eCommerce and web design industries.

But what is the Mobile-first Web Design approach in eCommerce? What does it really entail? How does it compare to other UX design schools? And what role does desktop UX play today?

Read on.

What is Mobile-first in eCommerce? 

While bigger screens had been the starting point for web design and development for many years, more often than not successful eCommerce design projects adopt a mobile-first UX approach based on a simple assertion and that is initiating the creation of digital products based on the screen size most used by consumers: mobile devices. From there, adapt the mobile design and experience to desktop.

The most common reasoning behind adopting a mobile-first approach is the flexibility it offers when it comes to design and functionality since it requires designers to focus on the most important features and content, rather than trying to fit everything onto a smaller screen further on in the project. 

Why Mobile-first?

If meeting your biggest customer segment where they are isn’t enough of a benefit, here are a couple more advantages to using a mobile-first design strategy in eCommerce:

  • Increased mobile traffic and sales: As more and more consumers are using their smartphones to browse and make purchases online, a mobile-first strategy can help significantly increase traffic and sales from those mobile users.

  • Improved user experience: A mobile-first approach is a customer-centric strategy that ensures that the website is designed with the user in mind. Using this approach help ensures that a storefront is optimized for smaller screens and touch-based navigation, resulting in a better user experience and long-term loyalty.

  • Better SEO: Google predominantly uses the mobile version of a site's content, crawled with the smartphone agent, for indexing and ranking. This is referred to as mobile-first indexing. A mobile-friendly website can improve its search engine rankings which ultimately increases discoverability and drives organic website traffic. 

  • Cost and time savings: Developing a mobile-first website can be less expensive than creating separate versions for desktop and mobile users, as it allows for a more streamlined development process.

  • Better conversion rate: A mobile-first strategy can lead to a better conversion rate as a mobile-optimized website loads faster and is easier to navigate. Ultimately, reducing the bounce rate.

  • Future-proofing: With the increasing use of mobile devices, a mobile-first strategy helps future-proof the business by accommodating trends and staying ahead of the curve.

Mobile-first = Content-first = User-first 

To set your website’s design or redesign project up for success, you need to kick off the process by thinking about the content types most valuable for you as a merchant as well as for your consumers.  

Though mobile real estate in comparison to that of the desktop might initially be seen as a limitation, it really isn’t. If anything, it allows you and your development team to have a clearer and more concise vision of which content types should be prioritized and how they should be displayed to users in a flawless manner. 

To successfully do so, merchants should have a clear understanding of what their site visitors are looking for. That is all to say that a mobile-first designed site is a content-focused one. Being content-focused also translates into putting the user first, understanding their behavior, and utilizing this limited space to give them the experience they are eager for. 

Mobile-first vs. Mobile Responsive:

At this point, it is worth clarifying a persistent confusion regarding mobile designs; creating a responsive website doesn’t automatically make it mobile-first. In fact, there are several distinguishing features of mobile-first vs. responsive design.

The key distinction between responsive web design and mobile-first design is how the UX designer initially approaches the website. Mobile Responsive websites are reactive, meaning they are designed to move fluidly to fit different devices. 

On the other hand, mobile-first websites are intentionally designed and planned for mobile screens and are often time worked on in tandem with desktop versions of the site. This allows for more proactive decisions to the overall experience ensuring that both mobile and desktop meet and even exceed the standards.

That said, mobile-first websites are always responsive but responsive websites aren’t always mobile-first.

What about Desktop Design in eCommerce?

As we spot the light on mobile-first and mobile responsive, you might be wondering if desktop is going away anytime soon. We are here to say that it isn’t, but it’s no longer the standard either.

There are a lot of reasons why merchants should still consider desktop design but not necessarily desktop-first. It all narrows down to the merchant’s growth goals and vision for their online presence. Desktop offers: 

  • Greater functionality: Desktop UX design can provide more advanced features and functionality, as it is not limited by the constraints of a smaller mobile screen.

  • Extended design options: Designing for a larger screen can give more room for creativity, and more design options to make the website more visually appealing.

  • More suited for Complex Products: For more complex builds that are also content-heavy, starting with the advanced desktop version and taking advantage of the bigger screen has its obvious advantages.  From there, merchants can start cutting out content and functionalities to make their storefront more suited for mobile. This process is referred to as graceful degradation

  • Better for Business to Business(B2B) eCommerce: B2B sales may require more detailed information and descriptions than selling DTC, therefore, a prioritizing desktop will be more suitable to convert those deals.

At Avex, we realize that technology trends change at full-tilt speed, but the key foundation for success in the eCommerce space remains the same; having an on-brand digital home base that is set to meet customers’ expectations, drive revenue, nurture loyalty, and build brand awareness. This can only be done by delivering an excellent user experience where all site elements work in harmony. 

We design & build fast, beautiful, and high-performing Shopify Plus websites. From custom website design to headless commerce.

Our team of web designers, UX specialists and developers work together to advise on the best design approach based on each project’s unique scope and goals, all while being data-backed. Our process involves creative direction, sitemaps, and pixel-perfect prototypes for both desktop and mobile devices.

To further get a glimpse of how we help brands take complete control over the presentation of content while keeping the design consistent, engaging and on-brand, check out our Shopify Plus user-experience design project with O’Neill where we took a mobile-first approach and created a modular design system.

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