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Less is more as M-Retailing/Compuwear Gomez m-website test shows “heavy sites” and poor page construction take too long to download

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A study carried out exclusively for M-Retailing by Compuwear Gomez has found that many retailer’s mobile websites are too jam packed with information and images and as a consequence take far too long to download to be competitive. The worst offenders have been found to be Curry’s on iPhone and Android handsets, taking almost 30 seconds to render. Tesco’s grocery site is the fastest on both, coming in at 1.6 seconds on iPhone and 2.8 seconds on Android.

The study, which looked how ten leading retailer m-websites – from eBay UK, John Lewis, Tesco (grocery), Next, M&S, ASOS, Currys, Comet, Amazon UK, Play.com – fared on iPhone running on O2’s networking in the UK and an Android phone running on Vodafone, finds that, while most retailer sites sit squarely in the passable 3 to 5 second range, some which try to convey far too much information offer such a slow experience that they are in danger of consumers simply giving up and going elsewhere.

According to the research – which ran over a four-week period from 24 January to 21 February, and used the Gomez network – the key factors that affect these page rendering speeds are page structure and page weight – two key design criteria that many in retailing appear not to be taking into account when building out m-web sites.

According to David Flower, VP EMEA at Compuware Gomez, Page weight is a key factor. Generally, the bigger the page weight, the longer it will take to download. Currys’ website is a good example: its homepage varied from 320kbytes to 600kbytes on the iPhone during this test – the heaviest weight of all the sites Gomez tested – and it recorded the slowest download time of around 28 seconds. Until this page weight issue is resolved it can’t possibly hope to compete.

The study also found the even mobile astute companies can fall pray to this problem. While conducting the tests, Flower found that between 6.00am on 17th February through 18th February, eBay’s performance plummeted from 4 to 5 seconds to 36 seconds. The reason? eBay had changed its mobile page from a standard 12kbytes to a much heavier 0.5Mbyte page.

In contrast, the home pages of Tesco’s mobile site are relatively light – around the 100 to 140kybte range with less than 20 objects to download. Its site topped the table with an average download speed of 1.6 seconds on the 02 network and 2.9 seconds on the Vodafone network. These speeds are on a par with the website performance achieved via a standard PC browser.

The other key factor effecting rendering speeds on both types of handset is page structure. Again, looking at the Currys site, there are more than 20 page elements from numerous domains that make up the page. This page appears to be optimised more for desktop browsing than mobile browsing. This raises the question as to whether Currys is serious about reaching out to mobile users or is being badly advised as to how to mobilise its website, suggests the study. Tescos again seems to have really understood mobile and has truly optimised its websites for smartphones of either iOS.

“It’s too easy to feel cozy and warm behind the comforts of your firewall where everything from Web servers to load balancers seems to be running OK,” says Flower. “But that’s not how your customers see things at all. The service they receive (or not) comes at the end of a complex mobile Web application delivery chain that includes major ISPs, third party services, content delivery networks, local ISPs, mobile carriers, mobile devices and more. Problems at any point in the chain results in frustrations your customers may experience.”

According to other research carried out by Flower “Up to two-thirds of all performance failures occur outside the firewall – yet no matter where problems arise, the blame – and consequences – will fall on the website owner,” he says. “That’s why you need to ask the kind of questions that expose your mobile performance the way your customers experience it: what do customers want from your mobile service? Is your content optimized to perform well on mobile devices with widely different capabilities? Where do customers access your service? Does your service perform well regardless of geographic location or network? How do customers use your service? Does your mobile site render correctly regardless of device, be it an iPhone on 02 or an Android phone on Vodafone?”

M-Retailing/Compuwear Gomez m-web analysis

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