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It’s no secret that site speed can directly impact the performance of a site and ultimately affect revenue, conversion and page views. But surprisingly, new research shows sites are getting slower — not faster. According to data conducted from Strangeloop Networks, a Vancouver-based provider of Web acceleration solutions, the average page-load time of a site at the end of 2010 was just over 11 seconds, compared with seven seconds earlier in the year.
As merchants add more dynamic features to their sites, performance can start to drag. In response, retailers big and small are seeking technology solutions that can handle their growing sites, not only during critical periods but all year-round.
AutoAnything — a San Diego-based online retailer that specializes in custom automotive accessories and performance parts — first sought a solution in fall 2009 that could keep the site running smoothly despite its various performance-zappers. With more than 4 million items to choose from on its image-rich pages, AutoAnything also touts live chat, a recommendation engine and site personalization.
As a result, page response-times were extremely slow, with the home page taking up to 10 seconds to load.
“The site was getting very bloated,” said Parag Patel, chief technology officer, AutoAnything. “As our pages got bigger, it was easy to lose focus and control of the user experience. We were growing the site and didn’t want to lose customers at the same time.”
With a small engineering team and site traffic of more than 2 million unique visitors each month, it turned to Strangeloop for its Site Optimizer service to ensure a smoother shopping experience.
The cloud-based solution service allowed the company to get up and running very quickly with literally a flip of the switch. No additional software or hardware was needed.
“Although we were concerned with correcting the problem fast, our main criteria was return on investment,” Patel said. “We didn’t want to jump the gun and make a decision in the heat of the moment. Instead, we set up a test to measure the strength of the solution before deciding if it was the best fit for us.”
During the test period, it was arranged that 50% of AutoAnything’s visitors received website content that was accelerated by Strangeloop. Meanwhile, the other 50% of visitors received content served from the retailer’s centralized servers and existing content distribution network.
Almost immediately, AutoAnything experienced an instant revenue increase from the solution. It cut the page load times in half, resulting in a 9% increase in conversion rate, an 11% increase in average ticket size and a 12% to 13% increase in sales. The initiative resulted in a full return-on-investment in just weeks.
The gains continue to be felt year-round.
“We have been using the solution for over a year now and are thrilled with the results,” Patel said. “It has handled our busy seasons, as well as our normal traffic flows, extremely well. Site speed isn’t seasonal; retailers always have to be prepared.”
But be warned: Retailers that turn to site optimization solutions have more work to do after implementation. Careful monitoring is critical. Dynamic pages, coupled with ever-changing browser standards and shifts in user flows through sites, all add up to a constantly shifting set of performance requirements.
AutoAnything monitors the site often, Patel said, but many retailers do not take post-implementation as seriously.
“Some retailers have dramatically reduced their page-load times, only to let them creep back up months later,” said Strangeloop president Joshua Bixby. “This can create a barrage of complaints from customers, as well as a significant drop in traffic and conversions. Retailers can’t just fine-tune their sites and move on; they need to stay on top of the progress.”
Companies also run into trouble by waiting too long to tackle performance problems.
“The longer these issues are put off, the more expensive it can get to fix them,” Bixby said. “The bottom line is that retailers need to take performance seriously and give it the attention it deserves. Those that do will meet customer expectations, and those that don’t will be left behind.”