E-Commerce & The Importance of Site Speed

WHY SITE SPEED MATTERS BIG TIME FOR RETAILERS

BY: JENNIFER OVERSTREET

In e-commerce, speed is critical. No customer wants to wait for a page to load, no matter how compelling the brand story, how hot the product or how good the deal. This concept is the central selling point for content delivery networks (CDN), which many e-commerce companies are using to ensure their sites are faster, scalable, secure and reliable.

As the Shop.org Annual Summit kicked off today, we talked to Verizon Digital Media Services Vice President of Product Management Ted Middleton, who shared some insights on how CDNs like Verizon’s are helping retailers boost web performance and more.

Tell us about what you’re doing in the e-commerce industry.

We have many high volume e-commerce sites among our 4,500 customers, almost all of which are businesses that identified early on the importance of speed to their bottom line. Major players like Overstock.com — one of our busiest e-commerce customers — continue to grow rapidly, and for many of them being on our platform drastically reduces their need to worry about scaling up for the holiday season. We consider it a success when our e-commerce customers can stop worrying about infrastructure and can focus on what they do best — selling!

How important is page load speed to search, conversion and the overall customer experience?

While many factors go into building and retaining brand loyalty and conversion rates, performance is typically ranked as a key component. Many analysts and market research firms tout studies depicting decreasing tolerance of end-users for poorly performing sites. What was once called the 7-second rule in the early 2000s has quickly become the 3-second rule. Whatever the metric, it’s clear that consumers are now used to ubiquitous wireless, wi-fi or broadband coverage and multi-megabit-per-second data rates at home, work and on the road. They tire quickly of waiting for a site to load or an app to function.

Good performance has become the golden ticket, while poor performance can convey a lack of size, sophistication, security, and service capabilities.

Another key factor performance plays is the weighting in search engine results — if you have great performance because you’re using a CDN, you are much more likely to rank higher in results. For companies whom the Internet is the only path to consumers, if the site isn’t up and performing well, it is equivalent to hanging a “closed” sign on your door.

Many retailers are using dynamic content and other tools for customer engagement. How does dynamic content impact performance?

Dynamic content is a challenge for the traditional caching-centric focus of CDNs, because caching relies on a pattern of many requests for the same resource to achieve the greatest efficiency. Dynamic content can reduce or eliminate these efficiencies.

CDNs like Akamai and Verizon Digital Media Services have responded by incorporating a variety of network and content optimization techniques in addition to traditional intelligent request routing and use of distributed infrastructure. These techniques allow for content that may never be requested more than once to still traverse an optimized path from origin to end user.

Plus, CDNs that have capabilities to manipulate the content in addition to the request, are providing opportunities to move processing of page assembly, page construction, and resource optimization into the edge of the network, further reducing load on the publisher’s own servers.

The explosive growth of mobile is changing the game for many retailers. What are some key things retailers should keep in mind when developing their mobile strategy?

User experience is important. While newer mobile devices have display characteristics fully capable of scaling and rendering the traditional site built for the desktop PC, the use of gesture-based interfaces, smaller screens, and use on the go beckon for mobile-specific site adaptations. Creating underlying resources (graphics, etc) that are optimized for mobile in terms of size and compression can have a dramatic impact on performance and cost of site delivery. We continue to see sites that send down multi-megabyte backgrounds or other images because that’s what looked good on the desktop layout.

User experience and performance can both be maximized with the use of mobile-specific pages and native applications. Publishers should pay attention to many of the best-practices for mobile device page construction. The good news is that with minimal code investment, increasingly available information on device specific attributes and behaviors, and commercially available optimization services, good mobile performance is possibility without re-writing the entire site. In some cases this can be enabled via the right cloud-based solution.

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