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Fast eCommerce Websites: Can They Have Great Features?

Are online retailers finally delivering a fast eCommerce website experience?  That’s the question posed by the latest Retail Systems Research (RSR) report, “2018 eCommerce Website Performance: The Stakes Are Increasing, But Are Retailers Falling Behind?

The report is a follow on to RSR’s 2017 report, “eCommerce Performance: What Works, What Doesn’t, and What’s Next?,” and ranks 80 of the largest eCommerce websites based on their desktop website performance, mobile website performance, and the shopper experience.

We expected to see a list of fast eCommerce websites emerge from last years report. But the results revealed the opposite, as the average retailer score actually declined over the last year. The report points out that eCommerce sites continued to invest in a shopping experience with more features in 2017/2018, but didn’t match that investment with efforts to preserve fast website pages. Given the known impact of website speed on conversion rates, we would have expected the opposite.

Here is what we found interesting from the 2018 eCommerce Website Performance Report:

1. eCommerce Winners – The 5 highest scoring fast eCommerce websites were adidas AG, The Men’s Wearhouse, Ulta Beauty, 1-800-Contacts, and Edible Arrangements. adidas AG stood out for jumping up the most spots from last year (21 spots), and taking the highest score in Shopper Experience. 1-800-Contacts continues to have a fast eCommerce website that secured the highest scores in Mobile Performance and second highest in Desktop Performance.

2. eCommerce Losers – Stitch Fix, Foot Locker, and W.B. Mason scored in the single digits (out of a max possible score between 23 and 30) for every category, demonstrating huge opportunities for improvement. But in a year where mobile has received so much focus (PWAs, Google AMP, etc.), we were surprised to see that three websites – American Girl, LuLuLemon, and – barely registered 1-2 points (out of 24) on the Mobile Performance index.  

3. Mobile eCommerce is “Embarrassingly Slow” – The good news? eCommerce teams are investing in their mobile experiences to make them more “intuitive and shoppable.” The bad news?  They are way too slow.  The average retailer score was 37% of possible points for mobile eCommerce performance.    

4. Features are Slowing Pages – Many brands in the report have made significant improvements in site features and functionality over the last year.  However, these new features are typically delivered by 3rd party applications and services, which introduce new complexity and potential points of failure into their eCommerce websites. This year RSR measured 200-300 third party requests required to build the average eCommerce page, which is a 50% increase over last year. If even one of those requests fails, it can slow down the entire online shopping experience. U.S. Lock (Interline Brands) and Hudson Bay websites each make over 300 requests to 3rd party services, and you can see the impact in their mobile and desktop performance scores.  

5. Average Scores are Poor – Overall, the average retailer score went down from 2017. The average score was 35 out of 77 possible points (45%) and even the highest scoring retailers received the equivalent of a D- grade (63% of possible points). Retailers are doing a great job embracing features that customers value in a shopping experience, but have not found a strategy to handle the complexity and points of failure presented by 3rd party applications. As a result, their mobile and desktop performance is not keeping pace, which will eventually lose them customers. This trend is not good.

Fast eCommerce Websites: Conclusion

The RSR eCommerce report cites 50% growth in average 3rd party requests since last year, which clearly demonstrates one thing: online retailers are relying (and will continue to rely) heavily on 3rd party technologies to deliver a compelling online experience. It is the only way eCommerce sites are able to keep pace with rapidly changing shopper demands.

If you want to ensure a fast eCommerce website experience for 2018 holiday shoppers, make sure you have a solid approach for optimizing and controlling these 3rd parties. Any 3rd party request that fails could delay your eCommerce pages or block key parts of the shopper experience, losing you millions in December. Read the report to see how you or your competitors ranked, and what you can learn from fast eCommerce websites (1-800-Contacts, etc.) in the rankings. These retailers have clearly found a way to balance fast loading pages with an engaging experience that other sites have missed.  

Download the eCommerce Report

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