Mobile is devouring desktop traffic around the world. Mobile and tablet internet usage worldwide surpassed desktop for the first time worldwide last year, according to web analytics company StatCounter.
Developers are responding by neglecting the platform, but research by online gambling company bet365 suggests the reports of desktop’s death have been greatly exaggerated, as head of development Alan Reed explains.
"What we were discovering is our profiles of our customers were very different between desktop and mobile," he says. "That was in terms of duration of time on the site and the activities that the customers were conducting whilst on the different platforms.
"We were noticing that desktop customers generally by-and-large would have a much longer experience with each session than on mobile."
The different desires can be broadly divided between emotional and analytical motivations. Desktop customers were spending longer periods of time analysing a wealth of data that supported statistical decision-makers, whereas mobile users were seeking more immediate results from snap decisions.
The team quickly realised that while a responsive design may be suitable for mobile-first and beneficial to delivery speed and cost of development, it wouldn’t provide the desktop experience that customers wanted.
"Our challenge was very much to understand this and make sure that we could actually live in this omni-channel world which was very much based on customers deciding which platform they wanted to use, and then how they would use that platform," says Reed.
In late November last year, the development team completed a new stand-alone desktop website in HTML5. It’s driven by the same engines that power the HTML5 mobile site, but without the responsive design.
"The designs themselves for mobile are very much access to the immediacy of your in-play information, the immediacy of your cash, whereas the designs for the website or the desktop are very much based on analytical and supporting information that you would need to support the decision that you're going to make for your initial bet," Reed explains.
Reed is responsible for IT development of the website and the mobile site — "in short, all the stuff Ray Winstone advertises on television".
They're areas that have undergone immense changes during the company's history, from supporting basic sports odds when bet365 was founded in 2001 to in-play, gaming, casino and financial betting and the cash-out feature to cut your losses or collect your winnings before the event ends.
The company has a reputation for embracing innovation, but its latest move involved returning to the past. The customer analysis revealed that users weren’t split across platforms by age or location, but by specific uses.
"What we would find is we weren't necessarily finding the demographics split between the two. We were finding that the same customer would use both platforms but the same customer was using both platforms at different times," says Reed.
The reactive cash-out option and betting on events as they happened was far more popular on mobile than on desktop, where customers were more interested in gambling on the future and complex betting such as multi-bets consisting of two or more selections.
"We give far more supportive information on the desktop than we do on mobile, because the mobile is basically about how to get your emotive, instinctive, gut feel of the decision you wish to make — what are the minimum amount of interactions that you would need to make that decision," he explains.
"Whereas on the website, that wasn't necessary the primary concern, the primary concern was to inform and allow the customer to make their correct decision."
Future of desktop
Mobile remains the primary interface for bet365 customers by a margin of roughly 70-30. But the growth in mobile use didn’t mean that desktop was declining.
"What we've seen is growth in both areas but far more a growth in the mobile space, which everybody would expect.
"But what we did realise was that customers weren't actually sacrificing one platform for the other, they were actually prepared to use both, but most of their activity was actually on mobile, but not at the expense of the desktop."
Speed of delivery and cost of development can make desktop strategies an intimidating option, particularly as mobile growth remains strong. But bet365 has benefited from providing customers with the omni-channel experience they require.
bet365 recognises that the the future is mobile, but has learned that there's life in the old desktop yet.