Designing Small Business Ecommerce – Responsive or Adaptive?

Michael Melen
Michael Melen


Designing Small Business Ecommerce - Responsive or Adaptive?

As mobile and tablet usage continues to rise, web developers must consider the user experience across all screen sizes. I believe that this is most pertinent for ecommerce websites because the user is not just gathering information, but also completing a purchase. Usage of ecommerce via mobile is still relatively low, but is increasing as website layouts become mindful of mobile users and users become more comfortable with entering sensitive payment information.

The big question is: is it best to go responsive or adaptive? Let’s start by defining the two options:

1. Responsive Layout:

A responsive layout automatically resizes content to your browser or screen size. The content stays the same and so does the website URL and CSS code.

2. Adaptive Layout:

An adaptive layout is basically having a separate website just for mobile users.

Why Adaptive?

When making critical web decisions such as this one, I like to see what the industry leaders are doing.




The top five most popular ecommerce sites in the world have adaptive layouts. Another study found that only 9 of the top 100 ecommerce sites use responsive. So the case is closed and adaptive is the winner, right? Not so fast.

Why Responsive?

The biggest push for responsive layouts comes from Google. If “Google says so” isn’t reason enough, here are a few more reasons that Google themselves mention:

  1. Using a single URL makes it easier for your users to share.
  2. No redirection is needed which reduces loading time.
  3. It saves resources for both your site and Google’s crawlers. (as if Google needs to save resources)

The Debate

Google says responsive but leading ecommerce sites aren’t listening. What’s the deal? Take out your mobile device and experience the difference for yourself. Go to,, and Notice that you are redirected to the mobile version, usually denoted by or Now go to,, and The adaptive (separate mobile site versions) are better, right? They should be, they are made exclusively for mobile, after all.

The Bottom Line

Adaptive websites are slightly better for users, so it makes sense that top ecommerce websites choose that layout. For them, a 1% increase in conversion rate means millions of dollars to the bottom line.  For small businesses however, I would recommend going responsive. Aside from Google’s reasons, I have found that responsive websites are easier to develop and maintain. With adaptive, any change to the website means double the work. Responsive is less to maintain, better for search, and loads faster.

Adaptive is better if you have millions of visitors. For the rest of us, responsive is the right choice.

And with the latest Magento version 1.9, coding responsive for ecommerce has never been easier.

Choose SmartSites for Responsive Ecommerce

According to many studies, mobile web usage has already surpassed that of desktops. Does your ecommerce website cater to the majority? Hire SmartSites to make your current site responsive, or build a new responsive ecommerce site.