The holiday season is quickly approaching and business owners should be thinking about the things they can be doing to improve their marketing strategy. Delivering an online shopping experience that is fast and enjoyable is important for retailers who want to improve their online and in-store sales. While there are a lot of outward things that marketers can do to improve the online shopping experience for customers, a new report suggests an important place to start is under the hood the website. A study from Radware suggests that slow websites can cost retailers a significant amount of revenue during the hustle of the holidays.

There's a sentiment among many that the internet has made people more impatient. While it's unclear if this is true in a general sense, it's almost certainly true for people waiting for websites to load. A few years ago, research was released that showed that most people will leave a site after 8 seconds. Radware's data suggests that the majority of consumers would leave in less than half that time. In fact, 57 percent of site visitors will abandon a web page after just three seconds if they are unable to interact with the key content.

"No retailer wants to abandon up to 57% of their inbound site traffic, especially during the holiday selling season," said Kent Alstad, VP of Acceleration, Radware, in a press release announcing the study results. "Retailers must invest in user experience for online customers, and that includes both content and page load time. Serving more content to customers is expected but the goal is delivering more content, faster. That's the 'magic formula.' Web performance optimization, or lack thereof, will directly impact the bottom line for retailers this holiday season."

The research is based on data from the real-world performance of the top 100 ecommerce sites (as ranked by number of site visits). According to the report, just 12 percent of retailers are currently meeting "customer expectations for both content and page speed". And though the value of fast loading pages has been known for some time, 14 percent of top retailers take longer than 10 seconds just to become functional, which is an increase from the 9 percent Radware saw in their February 2015 report.

The Summer edition of the Radware State of the Union report offered some other pieces of data that shows that many of the top ecommerce sites aren't where they need to be to meet customer expectations. Of the 100 top ecommmerce sites, the median page is 1945 KB in size and contains 169 resource requests, which led to a median Time To Interact (TTI) time of 5.5 seconds, which is considerably slower than users' reported wait-time threshold of 3 seconds. Similarly, nearly half (48%) of the top 100 sites received an "F" score from webpagetest.org for image compression. This is bad because images account for for more than half of the load times for typical pages.

This disconnect between consumer expectations and what the top retailers are delivering represents an opportunity for small businesses and emerging players in the industry. Being able to offer a good value and good products in a convenient way is the key to securing loyal customers. Studies have shown that low prices, product quality, and shopping convenience are essential for physical store retailers and the same is true for ecommerce.

One of the benefits of improving a site by increasing the speed is that many of the changes that need to be made can be done in conjunction with other changes that marketers would have done during the holiday season. For example, a key way to reduce low times is to reduce the number of bandwidth intensive features that are on each page. Reducing the size of banner images and product images can help pages load faster.

Another change that business owners can make at this time is moving away from Adobe Flash generated elements. Many sites still have elements on their sites based on Flash technology. Besides the limitations the platform has for mobile marketing, Flash also has the disadvantage of making pages run slower. In fact, Google Chrome will begin pausing Flash elements by default in the near future. Business owners who are updating their sites for the holidays should have their designs switch their Flash based elements converted to the more mobile-friendly and faster-to-load HTML5 format.

With the holidays fast approaching, business owners should run speed tests on their sites to see if they can benefit from speed optimization. Improving page load times can increase the number of visitors who stay on the site long enough to buy.

For more information that can help marketers this holiday season, read this article on how email marketing can help improve holiday ecommerce sales.

 

Published on: Sep 14, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.