eCommerce websites are often considered as extensions of the business’s or retail store’s inventory, simply moved online. As a result, we see two things:

  • An information overload — pages upon pages of product categories with thin content in product descriptions, that would probably make Hal 9000 commit hara-kiri while trying to make sense of.
  • Inefficient and disengaging website design — the websites are designed to simply and unintelligently display the information, without knowing the device on which they are being displayed.

Image: Web design is an integral component of eCommerce strategy

In this post, I’ll be focusing on the second aspect, the misperception that causes businesses to miss what their online eCommerce presence really is.

What is it?

It’s a website, which like any other affects the engagement level and ambiance of the people who visit it for searching, or purchasing products that you are offering. Missing this crucial link is the primary reason why so many people miss the opportunity to convert people online.

Approaching the eCommerce Conundrum

The design of any website should (ideally and most preferably) be accompanied by a strong marketing and web strategy. In a phrase, the website should have a defined purpose for the business.

It has direct bearings on the type of website that will be designed for the business.

Nowadays, tailored-content experience has become a buzz word. Everyone knows that the displayed content should always be relevant to the audience. This is especially the case when your target audience is actively using mobile devices to search and interact with businesses in your niche and industry.

The normal discussion on the best way to streamlining the content marketing strategy and properly sending the content revolves around using different forms of responsive websites.

To cut the cord short, there are three ways you can redesign your eCommerce website to make it more engaging and hence converting:

  1. Responsive websites
  2. Adaptive websites
  3. Responsive-Adaptive Hybrid

All of them are different, and designers agree on the difference between adaptive and responsive website design. However, the problem lies in answering the question: which one is the right one for your business?

That is what the following sections will try to answer.

First, we’ll start with the basics of each website design type.

Second, for each website design philosophy we’ll discuss their business-related pros and cons.

Finally, I’ll end it with the questions that every business should ask to find out the right website solution for their business requirements, budget constraints, and timeframe.

Image: Components of a robust eCommerce web strategy

Let’s discuss RWD first.

Responsive Website Design (RWD)

Here’s a long list of 70 responsive websites.

All of them have one thing in common. They identify the screen size of the device on which they are being loaded, and seamlessly change their layout so that they can fit the new screen size WITHOUT affecting the content that is being displayed.

You won’t have to zoom in on the page, or move the page around to find the content on the page.

Remember Bruce Lee?
“Be like water, my friend.”

That’s what these websites do.

They use a fluid grid.

They simply take on the form of the new screen.

The technology used in these websites is primarily front-end. This means that the changes occur on the user end and not on the server on which the website is hosted (or built on). Hence, once your server and the target audience’s device establish a connection, the website loads itself as normal and realigns its grids so that it perfectly fits with the new screen.

Pros of RWDs

  • Better SEO — you need to make only a single website, with a single URL. This prevents issues of content duplication and makes it easier for search engines to crawl them.
  • Efficiency — your marketing and development resources will be focused. You have to work on a and maintain a single website/project
  • Consistency — your users gain the same experience when they move from one device to the other.
  • Better Reporting and Analytics — a single website means a single database/account for all your business reporting data and analytics.
  • Greater Reach — No matter how many new devices enter the market, your website will gladly display itself on all.

Responsive websites need a responsive marketing strategy where all the content that is being created has to be responsive. For instance, a non-responsive image or video being embedded on a responsive website can wreck havoc with engagement.

The Adaptive Website Design (AWD)

When you use Facebook, do you see the “m.” before it?

It means that you are using Facebook on a different Facebook website, one that is specially designed for the mobile devices.
Many businesses have dedicated websites for displaying their brand and content on mobile devices, and at times multiple websites — EACH targeting a different device or screen size.

These websites are called adaptive websites.

They allow businesses to create a more personalized user experience for people. They are used to display a different form of experience on different devices, an experience ADAPTED to maximize engagement for that device.

Perhaps your audience would like to see the ads above fold on one device and beloved fold on the other. Perhaps they don’t want to see the image at all, or want a short menu, summaries after every scroll, or ease of sharing the content etc.

The technology used in adaptive design is back-end. The changes are made on the server side, so that only the right website is displayed on the device.

Pros of AWD

  • Agility — the performance of each site is optimized for the device separately, dramatically increasing the loading time and engagement
  • Personalize Experiences — it’s easier to target customers when you tailor the content and marketing efforts for maximum impact on the device/screen-size they often use.


  • Varying user experience — maintaining your brand messaging becomes difficult as visitor moves across multiple devices
  • Higher Maintenance Costs — Multiple websites demand multiple maintenance plans and schedules, dividing attention and resources
  • Complicated analytics — Multiple websites mean that data is being collected differently and at different locations, and even in different systems making gaining a holistic overview time and resource consuming
  • Adaptability — Every new device has the potential to disrupt engagement

Blended Website Designs

Websites that use fluid grid systems (responsive layouts) for front-end, but also have multiple server elements are called Responsive Websites with Server component (RESS), or Hybrids.

These websites automatically resize to fit any screen, hence requiring a single URL and website (and maintenance plans), BUT also check device type/model to identify the personalized content that must further be displayed (or removed) to maximize user experience on the device.

Which Website Type Does Your Business Need?

So which one is the right one for you?

Ask yourself!

Here are the “Top 3 Questions” that will let you identify the one that best fits the needs and budget for your business.

Question #1 — Visitor Interaction

What does your data tell you about your user interaction?

How many are interacting with both desktop and mobile? How many are interacting differently on mobile and desktop?
For instance, at times people use desktop for more full-fledged research and content reading whereas on mobile they often look for a limited or specific type of information or may be skimming more often on mobile, paying only on headlines and summaries (even disliking more images because of smaller screen size and since they block skimming).

If you are finding a clear difference in how they interact with your content, create two different layouts for mobile and desktop.

Question #2 — What are their Demographics?

What is your target age group? What is there income range? How many devices do they use?

For instance, elder people would respond better to less cluttered and user-friendly responsive websites if there is a lot of content to sift through, whereas younger generation won’t stand and get used to the website.

Now income can possibly define the leeway you have in loading times. Responsive websites are arguably slower than adaptive websites.

Your analytics will show you whether a significant majority of your customer base is using two to three devices. This can allow you to create adaptive websites for increasing engagement and brand loyalty, whereas a wide variation in device usage makes a stronger case for responsive websites.

Question #3 — How Sharable is your Content?

Your website is (and should be) a part of a bigger, more strategic content marketing strategy. If a significant part of your marketing strategy is focused on increasing engagement and traffic through sharing content, then a responsive website is needed to build trust (by keeping the messaging consistent across devices).

A blog is often the center of a marketing and content sharing strategy, and incase adaptive design seems more suited for the job; creating separate domain will prove worthwhile.

In Conclusion — Budget is the Biggest Staler

The biggest issue for any website design project is your budget. You have one and you expect (or even hope) that you get the best results for the buck. However, that is not always possible. If after this post, you realize that budget is the biggest factor in your decision, then focus your choice on the pillar pages of your web and marketing strategy.

It’s not necessary to make every page of your website responsive and adaptive immediately. Focus on the ones that are critical to your strategy and slowly extend responsiveness, adaptability, or even RESS to other pages.

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