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ANALYSIS Who won online this Christmas?

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by Mark Gunn, Compuware

Despite the announcements that HMV and Jessops are to go into administration, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom for the retail sector in recent times. In fact, 2012 finished on a high for many, with online retailers leading the charge over the festive period.

According to The British Retail Consortium, December retail sales in general were higher than the previous year, largely attributed to a rise in online shopping and in particular being given a big boost by the 17.8% jump in online non-food sales.

Echoing this sentiment are the findings by the The Entertainment Retailers Association. It reported that digital sales of music, video and games exceeded £1bn for the first time in 2012, witnessing an 11.4% growth on 2011. This alone accounted for a quarter of the combined entertainment market.

Helen Dickinson, director general, British Retail Consortium, has said many retailers have invested in their websites in view of the fact that “shoppers are increasingly taking advantage of the convenience that online shopping offers at every stage of the customer journey, from comparing prices to reserving and collecting in-store”. But, have these investments paid off?

Testing web performance

Compuware Gomez tested the web performance of 49 ecommerce websites’ landing pages from 1 December through to 31 December. Sites it evaluated included: Tesco, Apple, Argos and HMV. It measured how each performed on the Last Mile (the end user perspective) by monitoring landing page response times and availability. Both these measurements are significant because slow or unavailable sites can result in significant revenue losses.

December web performance

While the benchmark’s average response time was 5.79 seconds, the top five fastest websites were: Tesco (1.55 secs), Shopzilla UK (1.99 secs), Apple UK (2.50 secs), BizRate (2.59 secs) and Argos (2.73 secs). The slowest five were: Ticketmaster UK (13.54 secs), Newlook (10.89 secs), Game (10.88 secs), Halfords (9.8 secs) and Top Shop (9.2 secs).

The average availability for the sites within the benchmark was 99.52 per cent. The most available websites within the benchmark were: AVG (99.92%), SupaPrice (99.89%), MandMDirect (99.87%), BizRate (99.86%) and Hewlett Packard (99.84%). The least available sites were: ASDA (97.89%), Ticketmaster UK (98.22%), Maplin (98.35%), HMV (99.12%) and Sports Direct (99.13%).

Web performance the week before Christmas

The week before Christmas the average speed of the websites within the benchmark slowed down marginally to 5.93 seconds and became less available with an average rating of 99%. Although these changes are minor, there is a strong chance that they would have had an impact on customer experience and ultimately sales. Tesco, again was the top performer (1.73 secs / 99.15% availability) and Ticketmaster was slowest of the bunch (11.99% / 97.48% availability).

Web performance during the week of Christmas

The average response time during the week of Christmas (w/c 24 December) was 5.66 seconds while availability was at 99.02%. Therefore sites were faster and more available this week compared with the week before Christmas, and slightly more available than during the week before Christmas – but, less available during this week than the week before Christmas.

Again, Tesco lead the benchmark (1.73 secs / 99.28%) and Ticketmaster performed the poorest (11.16 secs / 97.45%).

With the trend towards online shopping – be it via laptops, tablets, or mobiles – rising, retailers need to ensure that the door to their online shop-front is well and truly kept open in order to capitalize on this new 24/7 approach to shopping. Having a slow and unavailable website during key shopping periods is like closing your shop on the high street during the busiest shopping days of the year. You wouldn’t do it in the real world. Why online?

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