eBay, Amazon Site Performance Score Horribly In UK

Amazon's U.K.-facing Web site scored near the bottom of the January ranking of U.K. retail site performance by testing company Sitemorse, and eBay's didn't do much better.

Sitemorse reviews and ranks sites on several parameters, including function, accessibility for the disabled, code quality and performance of each site's first 125 pages. It ranked amazon.co.uk 104 out of the 109 sites tested, giving it a measly 1.26 points out of a possible 10 and finding that the site required "urgent attention" because its shortcomings posed a "significant business risk" in function, accessibility and code quality.

Sitemorse ranked ebay.co.uk at 100, with a score of 1.98 out of 10, and said it had problems nearly identical to those found at the Amazon site.

"Amazon always seems to be at the bottom part of the table," said Sitemorse CEO Lawrence Shaw. He added that Amazon, despite any shortcomings with its site, recently reported Q4 financials far stronger than any other retailer or E-tailer. "That's great," Shaw said. "But how much business are they giving to other people by basically getting people to go (to Amazon.com) but not doing a good job for them when they get there?"

Shaw said Sitemorse found too many examples of broken links, images that fail to appear, E-mail addresses that don't work, products that fail to stay in shopping carts and more on amazon.co.uk. "It's just a whole raft of failures. Good HTML code is required so your Web site works across all browsers and devices," he said. "With their code, every page fails" the Sitemorse analysis.

Sitemorse said eBay's U.K. site slipped 21 places in the rankings when compared to the last review. Amazon sustained a 12-place slide. "The question is whether these two will begin to lose business to smaller rivals who offer a better service online," the Sitemorse report said.

Stumbling Blocks

At least Sitemorse was able to score and rank eBay and Amazon. The company excludes The Gap's U.K. site from its tests because it relies on "assistive technology," which Shaw describes as "a fancy bit of code on the front of The Gap's Web site, which actually limits access to it."

He isn't sure what, exactly, is going on at Gap.com that upsets the Sitemorse analyzer system. "I think it's a JavaScript thing trying to do some fancy stuff," said Shaw, acknowledging the lack of precision in that description. "The downside, the real problem, is that their Web site can't be efficiently accessed by all browsers," he said. "It's strange that people put all this paraphernalia on their sites."

A big stumbling block for many sites tested by Sitemorse is compliance with site-design standards that make them usable by the disabled. For example, Sitemorse found too many images on amazon.co.uk/ that did not display descriptive "alternative text" windows when they are passed over with a cursor. These can be read aloud by software used by the vision impaired.

Jim Thatcher, an expert in disabled accessibility design for Web sites who works with Amazon on its site, said "Amazon's site is not perfect, but I can testify without equivocation that they keep getting better."

Thatcher noted how Amazon, when confronted several years ago about its site accessibility, agreed to work toward improving it while Target "put up its back" and chose to fight. Target ended up paying $6 million and settling out of court.

Thatcher said the accessibility aspects of major retail sites are "improving with time," but he added he is "often flabbergasted at how bad things are."

Despite Thatcher's comment and the repeatedly poor performance of some big-name sites, Sitemorse said retail sites in the U.K. "improved markedly over the past month, judging by the scores" of the companies at higher positions on its list. "Whereas last month only nine retailers scored a credible six out of 10, this time a much more impressive 19 achieved this score for the performance of their Web sites."