September 10th, 2013 | 2 MIN READ

Beyond Responsive Design: Contextual Merchandising

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Responsive design is steadily gaining adoption as it offers a scalable way to serve your website across different screen sizes, namely mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

But responsive design as we know it is not as responsive as it could be - it fails to take into account a mobile user's context and their corresponding states of mind. Contextual responsive design may be the next movement after responsive design in the evolution of digital experience.

What could a post-responsive design world look like?

An evolutionary psychologist from the University of Minnesota ran an experiment using a men's sunglass cart set up on the streets of Hollywood. The cart sold only 2 styles of glasses, a conservative style advertised as "most popular, over 1 million sold" and a golden pair fit for an Elvis impersonator with "a real king stands out from the crowd" on its placard.

The cart was set up in 2 locations. The first in front of a plain wall backdrop, away from billboards and storefronts. The second set up in front of a racy lingerie shop.

The men overwhelmingly chose the conservative, most popular style in the plain area, while men preferred the more flashy style when subconsciously stimulated by the sales window.

While this experiment set out to demonstrate the influence of sex on product choice, it also has application to the context of mobile shopping. Imagine if you were an online sunglass shop, and placed QR codes in bus shelter ads in a city's fashion or nightlife district, as well as in suburban areas? The downtown adverts could direct scanners to a more flashy assortment of styles, and suburban to more conservative and "safe" designs. Similar application could be made for push notifications within mobile apps.

Think about how your website's merchandising (featured product on home page, for example) and offers could "respond" based on what you know about your customer and his or her environment at any given point in time. Sound too futuristic? It's not a stretch of the imagination for connected devices to collect and transmit this information in order to deliver more relevant interactions for users, even pulling additional data from social networking apps, and for smart marketers to tap into this information to deliver the most relevant and persuasive content and offers.

Of course, much work is to be done to discover which contextual data points matter, and solutions to connect the dots between data sources have yet to be created. But the possibilities around contextual personalization is exciting, and its inevitable that marketing will move in this direction.

For now, let's work on getting websites responsive across devices...

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