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Study: Fast Web performance outshines rich online experiences


To stand out in a highly saturated digital marketplace, retailers must deliver fast speeds that drive top-notch experiences.

This is according to “E-commerce Performance: What Works, What Doesn’t, and What’s Next?” The report, from Retail Systems Research (RSR), evaluates 80 major retail websites on page speed performance, as well as end user experience.

According to the study, more retailers are bolstering their desktop and mobile e-commerce sites with ancillary tools, including product reviews, recommendations, personalization, and chat features, among other services, to help shoppers find merchandise and make the shopping journey more satisfying. However, it is overall site performance that directly impacts online conversion.

“For retailers, much of the internal debate over rich online experience vs. fast Web performance has focused on either cramming more and more capabilities onto sites, no matter what impact that has on performance, or stripping out functions and features to make sure the site loads fast,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner, RSR.

“In today's competitive market, retailers cannot afford to make these trade-offs,” she said. “Our report found there is a lot of room for retailers to improve performance and, by doing so, open up new opportunities to make digital channels truly differentiating and engaging at the same time.”

Here are the top performance challenges that many e-commerce sites face today:

E-commerce site performance is disturbingly slow: The rule of thumb for e-commerce site performance is if it takes more than three seconds to load, retailers risk customers leaving their sites due to slow performance resulting in lost revenue. Time-to-complete load times among the 80 retailers systemically underperformed customer expectations, averaging 9.5 seconds on mobile, and 16.6 seconds on desktop. Studies have shown that every second of Web latency can result in a 7% loss in conversion.

Third-party applications build great experiences, but hide a darker side: Retailers in the study used an average of 70 third-party e-commerce applications on their websites. These third-party partners may help them create a richer shopping experience, but they also require hundreds of additional requests to build each page. As a result, 50% to 75% of the time required to load a page was spent waiting on third parties. websites with above average use of third parties (>70) were 20% slower than those below the average.

Several retailers’ sites “errored” out of the evaluation: Many of the tested retail sites featured content – usually images – that would not load. This included one retailer whose entire site was totally unavailable. The homepage for this site featured a message that read “We’re usually awesome at this. Please don’t refresh your browser. You’ll be back in the flow shortly.”

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