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3rd Parties

Slow eCommerce Websites: The Ghost of Christmas Present

Why do we keep hearing about slow eCommerce websites during the holiday? eCommerce sales broke records this year, with almost $20B spent over the 5 days, according to Adobe Digital Insights. But slow page loading and outages once again derailed the holiday sales of several major websites. Most notable were H&M, Lowe’s, and The GAP. Is something unusual happening here?  

No, this is not unusual. And there should be no lack of awareness of the issues. Back in July, Amazon woke the industry when a one hour slow down on Prime Day cost them millions in sales. And a recent survey of 125 eCommerce leaders showed that 64% of retailers conducted performance tuning before the holiday. So why do these problems keep happening?  

1. 3rd party JavaScript beyond your control

3rd party JavaScript is a necessity and a problem for every eCommerce team. When everything goes well, those 3rd party apps (e.g. recommendations, ratings, social integration, etc.) will acquire you additional shoppers, grow sales, and keep your customers coming back. But they also create reliance on external, 3rd party servers that you can’t easily monitor or control. Which means if your 3rd party partner slows down, you slow down. This is what happened to The GAP on Thanksgiving, when their Snapchat integration slowed the website page load times to 30 seconds.  

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how you insert 3rd party JavaScript into your code. Asynchronous loading doesn’t make the website faster if the JavaScript never loads at all. Nor does it help if the JavaScript becomes a gating issue to completing the page. If Snapchat doesn’t connect, neither do your customers. The result is a slow eCommerce website.

2. Custom optimization projects

Retailers continue to rely on teams of developers to conduct quarterly or annual performance optimization projects. The average retailer spends more than $500,000 on these custom optimization projects each year, according to the 2017 eCommerce Leaders Survey: Site Performance & Innovation Trends report. This manual process tends to be more reactive, focusing on fixing known problems after they occur. Unfortunately, it’s the unexpected ones and that can lose you millions during the holiday.  Would you make load balancing a manual process? Of course not, because it’s a mission-critical component of your eCommerce site.  

eCommerce organizations have long deployed technology to manage the most important aspects of their sites. Unfortunately, technology-based approaches to automate website performance (and control 3rd party JavaScript) are frequently ignored in favor of a manual approach. This leads to slow eCommerce websites like what happened on Thursday, when one faulty 3rd party left millions of GAP customers without their khaki chinos this year. 

Slow eCommerce websites: What needs to change?

Retailers need to revisit their biggest priorities for their website. I frame it in terms of the retailer’s “hierarchy of needs,” envisioned in the pyramid below (and stolen from Maslow).  

Retailers today invest heavily in streamlining the customer journey and creating a rich shopping experience – the top of the pyramid. But often they are not getting the full return on those investments, because they have not built a strong enough foundation – the bottom of the pyramid.  Translation: Slow eCommerce websites. And if the site isn’t fast, your customers will never see the special content, functionality, and recommendations you have invested in.

The eCommerce Pyramid of Needs

Improving slow eCommerce websites: Speed and performance is the foundation of the eCommerce hierarchy of needs

Fifteen years ago the foundational element of successful eCommerce was uptime and availability, and retailers addressed that. But now more customers are accessing eCommerce websites from mobile devices, and those websites are becoming increasingly complex. As a result, website speed is now a significant barrier to getting a customer into the shopping experience. In other words…speed and performance is the new uptime and availability.

And website speed doesn’t stop with your own web operations. The average eCommerce website uses more that 30 third party applications, and each of those vendors experiences the same peak volumes that you do during the holidays. What happens if one of those third party partners go down? Do you have visibility into which ones are causing the problem? Can you fix it without an emergency code release? If you don’t have good answers to these questions, you should be exploring eCommerce acceleration technologies that can deliver this visibility and control.  

Foundation built on website speed

Before you deploy the newest innovation to delight your customers, make sure your foundation is solid. Leverage a technology-based eCommerce acceleration approach to ensure your site will load quickly with every new feature you add. Even the 3rd party JavaScript applications that are beyond your control. This will ensure that your developers are spending the holiday season on the “top of the pyramid” features that customers love, rather than troubleshooting 30s page load times.   

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