Retailers need to tackle the speed and downtime of their websites in order to provide customers with the online experience that they now demand, two new studies suggest.
Some 40% of UK retailer websites experience downtime during seasonal peaks, according to a new study from Cogeco Peer 1.
Meanwhile, a study from NCC Group suggests that website speed is slowing.
Cogeco Peer 1 asked more than 100 UK ecommerce decision makers about their challenges around peak trading. Some 48% said they did not feel completely ready for seasonal peaks in website traffic, while 58% said they faced page speed issues during peaks between 2016 and 2017.
“Retailers and brands are facing considerable challenges when selling online: from how to compete with the likes of Amazon and how social media is transforming shopping; to harnessing the power of automation and maintaining a uniform, effective online presence 24/7,” said Susan Bowen, vice president and general manager, EMEA at Cogeco Peer 1. “The figures in the study highlight the need for UK retailers to act if they are to take full advantage of the revenue opportunities available during seasonal peak spending periods [worth more than £7bn in 2016].”
The report comes against the backdrop of 2016 findings from PwC and the Local Data Company that 2,656 physical stores closed on Britain’s high streets in the first half of the year – equivalent to 15 a day, and up from 14 a day in 2015. That trend towards fewer stores, says Bowen, makes technology a critical part of successful retailing.
“Struggles during Easter can be a powerful indicator that this technology is creaking under the strain and holding retailers back during the biggest spending weekends of the year. It’s a tough question, but retailers all over the country need to ask themselves now, whether the tech infrastructure they are using is fit for purpose and whether it can support them through 2017’s seasonal shopping peaks.
“Brands can be as creative as they like with advertising and social media communications, but without a tech infrastructure that can meet the most strenuous demands of today’s online consumers, UK eCommerce brands will continue to miss out on these vital revenue streams.”
Meanwhile, research from web performance specialists at NCC Group [IRDX VNCC], found the UK’s top retail sites began 2017 over a second slower than they ended 2016.
The study found that the average load time for 50 of the biggest retail sites was 17.09 seconds in the first quarter of 2017, compared to 16.06 seconds in the final quarter of 2016 (measured at 2Mbps). The average page size for these websites had also increased from 2.29MB to 2.31MB, which may have contributed to the slower load time. This slowdown continues a trend that’s existed since at least 2013.
NCC Group’s real user monitoring data shows a clear correlation between load times and other KPIs such as user engagement (in terms of pages per session) and conversion. It says that if people are leaving websites because they’re too slow, this could ultimately have a significant impact on sales.
The one performance metric to buck the trend was render start time, which is the time it takes to start displaying content to the end user. Render start time was 2.88 seconds in Q1 of 2017, nearly half a second faster than in Q4 of 2016 and the fastest it’s been since Q3 of 2015.
Ben Daniel, head of professional services at NCC Group’s web performance division, said: “It’s a good sign that render start times are improving. It suggests that a number of retailers are eliminating some bad web performance practices and focusing on getting content in front of people early. But overall, the figures tell a familiar story of bigger, slower retail websites and a poorer experience for customers.
“The first step in reversing the trend is proving the impact of site speed on sales. Real user monitoring solutions, which track load times and measure their effect on customer engagement and revenue, can help with this. For example, earlier this year, the quality cooked food specialist COOK showed how it achieved a seven per cent increase in conversion rate after improving load times by less than a second.
“Historically, web performance has been the sole preserve of developers and operations teams. Demonstrating the business value of faster websites helps take it into the domain of ecommerce and, ultimately, the boardroom. Only then will UK retailers start to reap the rewards of a faster website.”