Big retail websites are slowing down. The median load time for e-commerce sites of the top 500 U.S. retailers is 7.72 seconds—13.7 percent slower than a year ago, Chain Store Age reports.
The numbers come from an annual study of the large retailers' sites by Radware, which found that individual pages use 8 percent more resources than in spring 2012, and 4.9 seconds is the median time required before a retailer web page displays its primary content. Nine percent of the top 100 sites tested took more than 8 seconds just to get that far.
Still worse, use of performance-improving best practices appears to have leveled off or even declined. That's despite surveys according to which 57 percent of shoppers reportedly say they'll abandon a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.
And all those performance numbers are despite the usual annual improvements in computer hardware and web browser speed. PCs and browsers are getting faster at displaying content, and website performance is still slowing down. In an apples-to-apples comparison, today's retail websites would look even worse.
Yes, retailers should be doubling down on best practices. But best practices can be expensive at a time when retail website development teams are under pressure—like everyone else in retail—to get everything done faster and with fewer people. Cutting corners in development shows up on the departmental bottom line, and it's a different bottom line than the one that shows customers abandoning sites because they load too slowly.
Yet another problem is that there's no hard evidence of customers actually abandoning sites that take more than three seconds to load, especially if the site is a known quantity. The famous "three second rule" dates back four decades to users of mainframe applications, which makes the extension to online customers about as reliable as rules about customers giving up on a retailer if finding a nearby parking space takes too long. Yes, you'll lose some, but far more will say they'll give up if they can't find a good spot quickly.
That means it's very hard to make a financial case for performance best practices. This report may be right to lament those slowing sites, but if customers aren't abandoning e-commerce sites and see the solution as even faster connections and hardware, the site-development situation isn't likely to change.
- See this Chain Store Age story
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