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According to the Digital Performance Benchmark Report For Australian Retailers by Dynatrace, websites of Australian online retailers are among the slowest in the world. Australian retailers’ use of third-party hosting providers has risen by 27 per cent, with local sites experiencing increased latency on these third-party connections – more so than any other country. And this isn’t good news for online retailers as, according to the report, worldwide consumer expectation demands a retail site to load in three seconds or 46 per cent of shoppers will shop elsewhere.
Dave Anderson, VP Marketing of EMEA and APAC at Dynatrace, says the risk of poor-performing sites is brand damage, loss of customer loyalty and loss of revenue. “When people can’t use your site they get frustrated, impatient, complain on social media and won’t convert on your site,” he says.
So how can you speed up your website and reduce the risk of a poor visitor experience and potential loss of revenue?
Before you attempt to “fix” anything, it’s always good practice to determine the scope of any problem. There are a number of tools and services available to help you assess the speed of your website, including average page load times. “The most simplistic and limited way of testing site performance is using your own hunch. This is where you visually ‘test’ whether a site seems to be running slowly and you analyse the result based on gut feel,” Anderson says. Of course, gut feel is not scientific and Anderson recommends e-commerce businesses use a range of testing tools – from browser-based ones to synthetic monitoring (monitoring from global testing nodes) and user experience monitoring, which keeps an eye on the customer’s visit and any problems encountered.
Often the simple strategy of smaller pages, lower-sized images and only playing videos when the visitor requests them is the quickest way to speed up a website. The longer the browser takes to render a page, the slower the site will seem from the visitor’s perspective. Most multimedia formats can be highly optimised to reduce data bandwidth requirements.
Today’s web is made up of many interconnected services that can be used for everything from content distribution (CDN) to database hosting. Measure how the use of third-party services might impact website performance and user experience, particularly if visitors are coming from different parts of the world. However, it is important for business owners to keep a close eye on the performance of third-party services and make sure a slow (or offline) third-party service doesn’t impact your site’s user experience. As the Dynatrace report indicates, the use of third-party hosts has increased in Australia during the past 12 months, yet average page response times have also increased. “Retailers also need to work with a CDN provider to make sure content is being served from the right location,” Anderson says.
An all too common mistake is to focus on the experience and performance of a website in one form factor like the desktop. Today’s web surfers are using all types of devices – from large-screen televisions to smartphones – and have high expectations for good performance across all of them. Review the speed and user experience of your website across a range of devices and plan for the best ways to support them now and as they mature. “User experience monitoring allows retailers to see website performance from all devices and whether certain devices are performing better, or worse, than others,” Anderson says.