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Why Urban Outfitters, REI chose checkout to spearhead responsive design push

LITCHFIELD PARK AZ ? Executives from Urban Outfitters and REI at the Mobile Shopping Summit 2014 explained why they are taking a piecemeal approach to responsive Web design, with both landing on checkout as the first completely responsive site component. 

During the panel session, ?Furthering Our Commitment To Responsive Design In 2015 And Beyond,? the executives discussed some of the challenges and successes that come with the move toward responsive Web design. For Urban Outfitters, the decision to tackle checkout first was driven by several factors.
?It was a navigation thing, but it was also a consistent set of pages,? said Mike Pitone, senior manager of product management and user experience at Urban Outfitters. ?It is a workload that doesn?t change, no matter what you are on. 

?It also has less of an influence from a visual design perspective,? he said. ?It needs to function and needs to be clear. 

?So it is lot easier to manage that than when we start talking about our home pages or landing pages, which are highly graphical. When you shrink down the screen on those, it becomes a big debate on content priority and we weren?t ready to have that conversation about source order or mix order formatting in our approach.?

The Mobile Shopping Summit was organized by Worldwide Business Research.

Content strategy
Mr. Pitone joined Urban Outfitters two years at a time when the retailer had already started moving towards responsive design. 

He put the brakes on the initiative because he felt the business was not ready from a content strategy perspective. 

?Going responsive, doing something in a responsive way, isn?t just about the technology and the design, it actually has a lot to do with your content strategy and your content hierarchy,? Mr. Pitone said. ?Preparing that content, delivering your campaigns, changes. 

?It is really easy to say I am going to put this piece of content on that device and that one,? he said. ?But when you have it as one, have to think through that and plan for that. 

Performance was another hurdle that needed to be overcome, with the company?s first efforts in responsive not performing at the level that consumers expect. 

Mr. Pitone explained that marketers need to be aware of the bandwidth required for delivering content as well as sizing, scaling, weight and orientation in order to insure performance is not downgraded. 

Customer experience
It is also important to keep in mind that responsive Web design is a business strategy but not necessarily at customer initiative. 

?We said, pull the brakes back, let?s not degrade the customer experience just to go responsive,? Mr. Pitone said. ?In its purest form, we don?t believe responsive is a customer thing. 

?The customer, if you deliver the concept and the design in the way that the customer expects it to be on that device, at that moment, they don?t care how it is designed or architected behind the scenes,? he said. ?So we said that wasn?t fair for us, to push our business agenda out on them.?

Without Walls
Over the past couple of years, the company has been taking a more piecemeal approach to rolling out responsive design, with anything new developed on a responsive framework. 

When the company launched a new brand this year, Without Walls, the site and the Web store were built from scratch to be responsive from end to end. This meant making sure the photos were sized and delivered in the right way and that the content was more type than image based. 

One of the biggest pain points Urban Outfitters has faced with responsive design has been how to go about design responsive elements on the page. Embracing componentized design has helped address this challenge. 

Another challenge has been the lack of a content management system that can support reusable content. 

?When you start to break down the elements of your into reusable objects, that?s where responsive and adaptive really starts to hum,? Mr. Pitone said. ?We have gotten to a point now where we are deconstructing our layouts into reusable pieces and then we design them independently. 

?And now we are ready when do have a more robust enterprise content management system that we can plug into that.? 

Being adaptive
One of the benefits of the move towards responsive design has been gaining a stronger understanding of digital design. 

?In the past, digital design was taken directly from print design,? Mr. Pitone said. ?With this, the last 8 months, we?ve broken down that construct, and we are starting to respect what it means to design for digital. 

Looking forward, Urban Outfitters is moving toward a more adaptive model. 

?Going into next year, we will have a responsive approach to our design but we will be moving much toward an adaptive model where we can deliver components and objects server side to make sure we are on the mark with the customer experience based on the device and where they are,? Mr. Pitone said. 

Business implications
REI is in the process of a comprehensive site redesign, taking a responsive and adaptive approach. 

One reason why the retailer chose checkout as its first responsively designed site component is because they are no headers and footers. 

?In responsive, design, that is one of things we have struggled with the most, which is how do you get to responsive headers and footers,? said Jeff Klonowski, senior manager of digital retail and mobile at REI. 
?How do you adjust it across the break points,? he said. ?Hence, we started with checkout because no headers and footers. 

One of the wins for REI has been how the move toward responsive design is energizing the development team.

The key to a successful responsive strategy is looking beyond simply rendering a site on different device to how to customize that experience based on the device. 

?It is one thing to render a site across devices but to really tweak it for the different screens is going to be one of the next big things,? Mr. Klonowski said. ?It has a lot of business implications and if the business is not ready for it, you can put yourself in a really tough spot.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York