Lessons Learned From the Holiday Season and 6 Retail Best Practices for 2014
Here are four trends that I identified following the 2013 holiday shopping season:
- retailers still struggle to offer optimum mobile shopping experiences, despite a surge in devices;
- desktop transaction speeds were extremely consistent throughout holiday season;
- average smartphone transaction speeds were 40 percent slower than desktop, and inconsistent from week to week; and
- shopping till you drop on tablets left many empty-handed — transactions averaged nearly three times slower than desktop.
Forrester estimated that online retail sales this past holiday season would account for $78 billion, one-third of all retail sales. This 15 percent growth is largely attributed to the continued change in consumer purchase habits and the rise of mobile shopping.
To provide the retail industry additional insight into the online shopping experience, Keynote monitored top retail sites over the holidays — Thanksgiving Day through Dec. 31 — to see how performance looked across the three screens of desktop, tablet and smartphones. The study looked at the speed and success rates for transactions, namely entering the homepage, searching, selecting and adding a product to a cart. Findings show that retailers are paying attention to desktop users, but there's still room for improvement when it comes to conducting a tablet- or smartphone-based transaction. With that in mind, below we identify six best practices for improving the user experience on mobile devices.
As a whole, retailers are doing a good job of managing the desktop experience. The industry has long understood the strong correlation of site performance to bottom-line results. Fortunately, years of focus on performance optimization are now paying dividends. The average time to conduct a transaction for a desktop user (22.79 seconds) varied by only half a second from week to week. When it came to individual pages, the slowest page across the measured sites was the "Search Results," coming up as the slowest across 46 percent of the sites measured. Long search application calls and a significant number of products showing up in search results leads to a large amount of image files being returned. This is where delays occur.
Retail was one of the first industries to recognize the importance of smartphones as a competitive differentiator. Yet even today, more than a quarter of all top U.S. retailers don't have a mobile site. Nearly all page designs in the Keynote study were specifically optimized for the smartphone screen size and mobile network (3G), with fewer elements. Even though the sites were aesthetically designed for mobile users, the average time to complete a transaction was still a slow 32.13 seconds. Throughout the holiday study the average ranged from 28.58 seconds to 35.66 seconds, certainly more variation than seen on desktops. The slowest sites were coming in at a painfully slow average of 54.75 seconds. These speeds were primarily driven by the search page occasionally taking over 20 seconds to return results over the cell connection.
The slowest page on the mobile side was by far the homepage, with it appearing as the slowest page on nearly 77 percent of measured sites. That may sound surprising, but in many cases the homepage takes the biggest hit with DNS lookup and TCP connection delays compared to most other pages.
The average transaction speed for tablets in this period was 61.35 seconds. This is an unacceptable amount of time for users and inevitably leads to the most dreaded of all online retailer woes — high shopping cart abandonment.
Why so slow? Surprisingly, all of the sites measured were serving up the desktop site on tablets. Not one offered an optimized tablet version, which like the smartphone sites would be mindful of the amount of images or third parties being served up and the potential cellular connection and its limitations.