$11.5B Reasons Why Retailers Need to Focus More on Site Issues
Adobe estimated that online retailers would sell $107.4 billion in merchandise over the 2017 holiday season. The good news is speed optimization to top e-commerce sites helped increase 2017 holiday revenues by $1.5 billion. Leading up to Q4 of 2017, we saw online retailers invest heavily in preparation of the upcoming buying frenzy. In fact, between September and October of last year, e-commerce sites sped up, seeing average interactive load times drop by over 10 percent. And critically, they managed not only to maintain that improvement throughout the course of the holiday season, but to improve it by a further 2 percent. Therefore, updates and upgrades made by retailers to improve site performance in preparation of the holidays paid off.
The bad news is technical issues kept on occuring, likely costing retailers $11.8 billion. This data supports the conclusion that now is the time for e-commerce sites to begin focusing on not just performance and performance stability, but overall site health. The new insights come from Shoppimon's Online Store Health and Usability (OSHU) Index. The OSHU Index was created to provide a window into how leading retailers succeed in the world of online sales. It also pulls back the curtains to reveal the performance and site health challenges brands grapple with while endeavoring to provide a smooth and consistent online shopping experience for customers.
So how common are content and technical issues? Well, they’re seven times more common than slowdowns. In fact, during Q4, 7,000 distinct technical issues were identified across the 117 stores featured in the OSHU Index. That’s an incredible 50-plus issues per site over a three-month period. Moreover, that rate of issue occurrences in Q4 is nearly identical to the rate at which we saw them occur during September, one month prior to the holiday season, and the period of time during which retailers were heavily optimizing speed.
Here are three types of issues online retailers should focus on to improve revenue:
Exposed Error Messages
When an error occurs on a site, shoppers are often immediately affected. The question then becomes how severely is their experience impacted. When the impact is severe, perhaps the most obvious outcome of an error is that a shopper just can’t complete a purchase, resulting in immediate lost sales. But that’s not the only severe impact an error can have. A surprisingly common problem occurs when an error message is exposed to the end user. Not only are these messages ugly and drive users away, often they cause shoppers to lose faith in your brand, a much worse outcome. This is particularly true if an error message is exposed at any point during the payment process, which can cause a customer to believe the site isn't safe to shop. Moreover, sensitive site information can be exposed when this type of error hits. This can in turn be exploited, leaving your site and potentially customers vulnerable. Therefore, it’s critical to ensure that error messages are handled with grace, and that there will always be pre-set error messages in place to prevent these types of issues from occurring.
Search is one of the key functions in an online store. Although we've seen sites with a search-less shopping flow, they're rare. Search is a dynamic virtual storefront that changes based on exactly what your customers are looking to buy. The chances of a customer completing a purchase after failing to find the item they’re looking for are slim. More often than not a shopper that receives an empty search result will assume the product they’re looking for is not carried on your site or is out of stock, leading them to move on. Despite how crucial search is, problems in this area of the site aren't rare. And there are many moving parts needing to work in harmony in order for search to function properly, including the product catalog, search provider, displayed content and tags, just to name a few. Maintaining high-performing site search that's hiccup-free is extremely important. Retailers need to make sure they know when search fails to display the expected results or fails completely so they can correct the issue immediately.
Web pages are loaded within a browser in two parts: content and presentation. A web page markup (e.g., HTML) contains the content and structure of the page, while the presentation information — its style — is stored in a stylesheet. A stylesheet will include information on fonts, colors, sizes, pagination, the design of a dropdown list or what buttons will look like, etc. And that means if a stylesheet fails to load, what you plan for a page to look like won’t happen. In fact, it’s highly likely that you'll see just a long list of text and links with no images or design whatsoever. A site with a missing stylesheet, while not technically “down,” is down from the consumer's perspective as this is unshoppable. Just take a look at the example to the left. A page such as this is unusable, so make sure you know how your stylesheets are stored and accessed. With over half of all websites experiencing this issue to some level of severity on a monthly basis, make sure you know when it happens.
Roy Rosinnes is the CEO and co-founder of Shoppimon, an e-commerce performance monitoring platform.