Can a Retail Website Have Great Features and Still Load Fast?
Are online retailers finally delivering a fast website experience? That’s the question posed by the newly released Retail Systems Research (RSR) report, 2018 eCommerce Website Performance: The Stakes Are Increasing, But Are Retailers Falling Behind? The report is a follow up to RSR’s 2017 report, eCommerce Performance: What Works, What Doesn’t, and What’s Next?, and ranks 80 of the largest e-commerce websites based on their desktop site performance, mobile site performance, as well as overall shopper experience.
We expected to see a list of fast websites emerge from last year’s report. The results revealed the opposite, however, as the average retailer score actually declined over the last year. The report points out that e-commerce sites continued to invest in a shopping experience with more features in the last 12 months, but didn’t match that investment with efforts to preserve fast website pages. Given the known impact of website speed on conversion rates, we would have expected the opposite.
Here’s what I found interesting from the 2018 eCommerce Website Performance Report:
- Winners: The five highest scoring websites were adidas AG, The Men’s Wearhouse, Ulta Beauty, 1-800-Contacts, and Edible Arrangements. adidas AG stood out for the biggest year-over-year increase (21 spots), and for taking the highest score in Shopper Experience. 1-800-Contacts continues to have a fast website that secured the highest scores in Mobile Performance, and second highest in Desktop Performance.
- Losers: Stitch Fix, Foot Locker, and W.B. Mason scored in the single digits (out of a max possible score between 23 and 30) for every category, demonstrating huge opportunities for improvement. In a year when mobile has received so much focus (PWAs, Google AMP, etc.), we were surprised to see that three websites — American Girl, lululemon, and JustFab.com — barely registered one to two points (out of a possible 24) on the Mobile Performance index.
- Mobile Performance: While many retailers received high marks for “beautiful, intuitive and shoppable” mobile experiences, almost all retailers were penalized for very slow mobile performance. An average grade of 37 led RSR to conclude that “most retailers’ mobile performance is nothing short of embarrassingly slow.”
- Site Features Slowing Pages: Many brands in the report have made significant improvements in site features and functionality over the last year. However, these new features are typically delivered by third-party applications and services, which introduce new complexity and potential points of failure into their websites. This year, RSR measured 200 to 300 third-party requests required to build the average e-commerce page, which is a 50 percent increase over last year. If even just one of those requests fails, it can slow down the entire online shopping experience. The websites for U.S. Lock (Interline Brands) and Hudson Bay each make over 300 requests to third-party services, and you can see the impact in their mobile and desktop performance scores.
- Average Scores Are Poor: Overall, the average retailer score decreased from 2017. The average score was 35 out of 77 possible points (45 percent), and even the highest scoring retailers received the equivalent of a D- grade (63 percent of possible points). Retailers are doing a great job of embracing features that consumers value in a shopping experience, but haven't found a strategy to handle the complexity and points of failure presented by third-party applications. As a result, their mobile and desktop performance isn't keeping pace, which will eventually lose them customers.
The RSR report cites 50 percent growth in average third-party requests since last year, which clearly demonstrates one thing: online retailers are relying (and will continue to rely) heavily on third-party technologies to deliver a compelling online experience. It's the only way e-commerce sites are able to keep pace with rapidly changing shopper demands.
If you want to ensure a fast website experience for 2018 holiday shoppers, make sure you have a solid approach for optimizing and controlling these third parties. Any third-party request that fails could delay your e-commerce pages or block key parts of the shopper experience, costing you millions in revenue this upcoming holiday season. Read the report to see how you or your competitors ranked, and what you can learn from the fastest websites (e.g., 1-800-Contacts) in the rankings. These retailers have clearly found a way to balance fast-loading pages with an engaging experience that other sites have missed.
Rich Stendardo is the CEO of Yottaa, a web and mobile optimization services company.
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