E-commerce saw unprecedented growth in 2020 as consumers relied on retailers’ sites for even the most routine purchases. Many brick-and-mortar stores adapted to the demand for digital and touchless service by offering curbside pickup. Online sales surged over the Q4 holiday season, which was extended due to a rescheduled Amazon Prime Day and earlier-than-usual shopping to beat shipping delays. These changes were brought on by the pandemic, but they changed retail forever.
2020 revealed that only the most digitally savvy retailers are set up for success. Target, for example, reported digital sales in November and December more than doubled compared to 2019. Others with less robust online offerings struggled to take advantage of the e-commerce boom. Consequently, they had to make tough decisions to remain afloat.
As retail continues down its digital path, brands face new challenges and even bigger opportunities. There are easy ways for retailers to capitalize on the surge in online traffic, while simultaneously improving their customer’s experience.
Bad Websites = Bad for Business
With the sudden spike in additional website traffic, many retailers were unprepared to handle the increased volume that came to their sites. For example, Yottaa reported site outages of major retailers on Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Notable brands that experienced issues included American Girl, Best Buy, Walmart, and Zara. The cause of these site outages, according to Yottaa, were “usually the site’s inability to handle the surge of holiday traffic.”
Site outages are obviously bad for business, but even worse for the brand. Customer complaints ripple quickly through social media and influence other shoppers to avoid such sites. The most effective approach to creating a great customer experience is website optimization.
The Key to Website Optimization: Imagery
There are many ways to optimize an e-commerce website; however, an easy method is one that many retailers overlook: optimizing website imagery. Imagery can account for the majority of a website page's weight and affect how quickly sites display for users depending on image format selections, pixel dimensions, device type, bandwidth and browser type. Page load speed is incredibly important because it impacts search engine indexing and overall customer experience.
Image optimization is a major missed opportunity for even the largest retailers. LiquidPixels recently conducted an in-depth analysis of image and page weight for the top 20 retailers on the National Retail Federation’s Top 100 Retailers’ list. Brands such as Costco, The Home Depot, and Best Buy have significant room for improvement when it comes to reducing image weight. Costco, for example, could save up to 23.52 seconds in page load time just by optimizing its images. The Home Depot could save about 20 seconds with optimized images.
The Mobile Opportunity
In the competitive world of e-commerce, even just a few seconds can make or break a sale. That is especially true on mobile, where consumers are even more impatient for a page to load. According to research conducted by Unbounce Marketing Solutions, 26.9 percent of mobile site visitors will only wait between one second and three seconds for a site to load before they leave.
Image optimization is one of the most critical factors necessary for a site to render quickly on a mobile device. In fact, Google has been prioritizing mobile-first optimized websites in search rankings since September 2020, and LiquidPixels’ research shows that many of the top 20 retailers’ websites take far longer to load than shoppers are willing to wait.
For retailers looking to gain a competitive edge in this digital-first world, a good place to start is analyzing how their website handled the surge in traffic in 2020. Then, retailers should learn what customers are saying about the brand’s online presence. This feedback is critical to shaping a new digital strategy. Research in hand, retailers will have a benchmark to enhance the customer shopping experience. Chances are, image optimization leading to reduced page weight will be the most important factor in creating a better CX.
Yes, 2020 was rough on retail, but with some modernization, 2021 can be retail’s year to thrive.
Steve Kristy is the founder and CEO at LiquidPixels, a solution in enterprise imagery.
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Steve Kristy is the founder and CEO at LiquidPixels, a solution in enterprise imagery. With three decades of digital imaging experience, he brings expertise and a proven track record of leadership to the development and integration of imaging software and hardware. Prior to founding LiquidPixels with Marc Spencer, Steve was a Director at Kodak.com, helping to lead the world's largest imaging company into the digital millennium. While there, he co-managed the creation of the Photo CD System at Eastman Kodak Company and the follow-on FlashPix™ standard. He is integral in uniting Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, LivePicture, and Kodak to this open imaging specification.