The holiday season is just around the corner, and retailers are struggling to keep their heads above water. There are plenty of reasons to be happy, as surveys predict an increase in sales for the holidays, but there are also a lot of challenges and pain points that need to be addressed if retailers want to take a bigger piece of this year’s sales pie.
The forecasts for the upcoming holiday season are quite optimistic. According to Deloitte’s 2018 Holiday Retail Survey total retail sales will increase 5-5.6%, with online sales rising 17-22% during 2018.
The report shows that 78% of consumers plan to spend more or the same amount as they did last year due to an improved household situation and more confidence in the economy.
One other interesting fact from this survey is the fact that 60% of consumers plan to shop online, which is a 5% increase when compared with 2017. Mass merchants are the second most popular venue type (52%), followed by traditional departments stores (32%) and off-price stores (28%).
The Importance of Speed in this Online-First World
One thing that remains constant throughout the years is the fact that seamless user experience is one of the most important aspects of shopping, both online and in-store. Long queues or complicated and slow checkouts can kill your business. This is especially true for the holiday season. People tend to be more sensitive because they want to spend more time enjoying the holidays, instead of dealing with slow e-commerce websites, or crowded stores.
Even though there were some retail apocalypse predictions a few years ago, today, as we witness pure plays opening physical stores and traditional retailers investing heavily in outstanding digital presence, we can definitely say that retail is not an ‘either-or’ thing. Now when we put that aside, we can dive deep and uncover the reason why page load time is so crucial for e-commerce.
There's No Second Chance to Make a First Impression
First of all, the shopping journey starts online for most people. According to research, 70% of consumers shopping for furniture begin the process online. As digital-native generations steal the spotlight, it’s clear that digital presence will be a key differentiator between success and failure.
In a constant struggle to be interesting and relevant to grab visitor attention, companies burden their websites with lots of content, making their web pages cluttered and more complex than ever.
And just when you thought that you could fill your website with unique content and win the business race, it turns out there’s a catch: visitors love content-rich sites, but they will not waste their time if your page is slow.
Research from Soasta shows that customers are impatient when it comes to web performance and digital customer experience:
- 50% of unsatisfied visitors will go to a competitor’s website
- 35% will have a negative perception of the brand
- 22% will never return to the slow site.
Source: Soasta - Web Performance Is User Experience
Mobile Shopping is On the Rise
We are witnessing a complete shift in user experience. The adoption of mobile devices is exploding. According to Zenith’s Mobile Advertising Forecasts, in 2018, 66% of individuals in 52 key countries will own a smartphone. Knowing that more than 50% of all web traffic is coming from smartphones and tablets, it becomes clear that focusing on mobile can be a significant competitive advantage.
Deloitte's 2018 Holiday Survey shows that most customers plan to use a desktop/laptop to make a purchase, but the biggest potential in mobile lies in other factors. Most of the customers said that they plan to use their mobile device to track order status (72%). The second and third top uses of a mobile device are browsing online (71%) and comparing offers (68%). According to the report, 67% of customers plan to use their mobile phones to make a purchase during the upcoming holiday season.
When it comes to customer expectations, they are even higher for mobile websites. 74% of mobile users will abandon a site after waiting 5 seconds for a page to load and 46% will not return to a website that performs poorly.
According to Akamai research, the mobile bounce rates during the 2017 holiday season went from 38% to 44% as page load time increased from 1.5 to 3 seconds.
And let’s not forget Google’s updates from earlier this year, which touted the importance of mobile and implied that mobile should be an important part of your strategy.
- The Speed Update - starting from July 2018, page-speed is a ranking factor for mobile searches.
- Mobile-first Indexing - if you still think that “the Speed Update” is not very important to you because most of your searches come from desktop computers, the fact that Google has shifted indexing from desktop to mobile-first should change your mind. Since most searches on Google are from mobile devices, Google has decided to use a mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages.
Factors That Affect Page Load Speed
All this being said, you must wonder: What are the factors that affect page load speed and how can I improve them? Well, here is everything you should know:
Page load time is a web performance metric that represents the time needed to display all of the content on a web page.
There are many factors that affect page load speed, and while you can’t influence some of them (like user connection speed), you are in charge of the rest:
- Server - this can have a crucial impact on your page load speed. Even though small businesses choose shared hosting as a more economical approach, a dedicated server and at least 99.5% uptime is a must for larger companies.
- File types and sizes - there is a direct correlation between file types and sizes and page load speed; the larger the number and size of files, the longer it takes to load the page.
- Browser - different browsers interpret the code differently. This is true even for different versions of the same browser. For that reason, cross-browser testing is imperative in seamless website performance.
- Software compatibility - even though plugins and widgets add to the functionality of your website, they also burden it. This means that you have to find the right balance in order to avoid slowing down your website.
- Traffic - website traffic is similar to a shop queue. The more people come into the shop, the slower they get served. Make sure your website is ready for high traffic volume.
Customers will not wait forever for your page to load.
How long is forever?
“Sometimes, just one second” - says the White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
This is true, especially when we are talking about page load time. According to Skilled, a one second delay means an 11% loss in page views and a 7% reduction in conversions. On the other hand, if your site makes $100,000/day, a one-second improvement in page speed could bring in another $7,000, daily.
Studies have shown that page load speed can be critical for your business. Here are a few aspects that can be heavily affected by your website performance:
- Bounce rate - According to Google, as page load time goes from 1 to 3 seconds, the probability of visitors bouncing increases by 32%
- User engagement - Financial Times found that a 1-second delay in page load time caused a 4.9% drop in the number of articles read, while a 3-second delay led to a 7.2% drop
- Conversions - For every 1 second of improvement to load time, Walmart experienced a 2% increase in conversions
- Revenue - A page load slowdown of just one second could cost Amazon $1.6 billion in sales per year
- SEO - Even though relevance remains the most important ranking factor, Google confirms that website speed can also affect your SEO
The bottom line is that bad web performance can negatively influence your brand advocacy and it can undermine your reputation.
4 Proven Tactics to Improve Page Load Time
When it comes to web performance, every second counts. Here are a few tips that can help you improve your page load speed:
- Compress files and large web service responses - there are a lot of tools that can help you compress files and different web elements. GZip is integrated into most web servers and can be enabled easily.
- Optimize images - reduce image transfer time by reducing the image size. You can reduce the image size by 3-8% without losing quality or up to 25-60% with an almost unnoticeable loss. Easy-to-use tools for this purpose are TinyJPG/TinyPNG.
- Content delivery network - this helps you distribute files around the globe faster by using a network of servers at different locations. This reduces the time needed to access a file, resulting in faster page load times.
- Minification - optimize the code by removing unnecessary or redundant data. This process improves both the site speed and user experience.
Get Ready for the Holiday Season
Holiday shopping surges can quickly turn into horror stories if you don’t solve all of these issues in advance. According to some estimates, the downtime Amazon experienced during Prime Day this year cost them around $72 to $99 million.
Here is how to prepare for the holiday shopping spree:
- Plan upfront. Don’t leave everything to the last minute. Well-timed campaigns can bring in more income as conversions spike on Black Friday and Cyber Monday by 2-3x. Also, during the 2017 holiday season, shoppers needed nearly two weeks to pull the trigger on purchases.
- Test often. It’s clear that you will have frequent updates on your website during the holidays, so make sure to test often, identify bottlenecks and monitor performance.
- Focus on mobile. Make sure to deliver an outstanding digital experience for both desktop and mobile users. However, research shows that, more often than not, mobile is the first touch point in the customer journey, and we already talked about the importance of the first impression. Make the most of it.
- Visual content wins. People want to see exactly what they are getting, but don’t be fooled, they won’t bother waiting for your page to load. They will just visit a competitor's website and get what they need. Use high-quality product images and rich media without compromising speed or quality. Features like zoom, 360-spin, or in-context images can help you show more and sell more.
With all these tips and tricks in mind, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and win more holiday sales.
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