With the smartphone now the primary device for researching retail purchases, merchants must make sure that they are serving mobile shoppers well.

Jason Miller Akamai

Jason Miller, chief strategist of commerce, Akamai

Omnichannel retailers and e-commerce merchants know that business performance is a year-round thing. That’s why—even as we’re just entering the dog days of summer—retailers thoughts are (or should be) turning to the holiday 2017 shopping season and, in particular, online and mobile performance.

That’s because overall holiday shopping revenues went up four percent in 2016, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), and online sales surged, up some 12.6 percent over the year before.  Customer-first web experiences are table stakes, and “mobile first” isn’t just a trend, it is a thing. And it’s an important thing, because online and mobile shopping performance aren’t just “nice to have;” they are now a business-critical performance issue, with a meaningful impact on revenue. In a society that now considers smartphones essential to daily life, Holiday 2017 will be the “mobile and online” season.

53 percent of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.

Akamai recently commissioned some primary research on website performance and its impact on conversions. Key findings from Akamai’s State of Online Retail Performance report illustrate the “make-or-break” need for retailer preparedness:

  • Half of consumers browse for products and services on their smartphones, while only one in five completes purchases using those phones
  • A 100-millisecond delay in website load time can hurt conversion rates by 7 percent
  • A two-second delay in web page load time increases bounce rates by 103 percent
  • 53 percent of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load
  • Bounce rates are highest for mobile phone shoppers

The data supports what we’ve known for a while: that website performance is a critical part of the customer experience and key to maintaining customer attention and completing online transactions. As consumers’ expectations continue to soar, e-commerce retailers need to provide high-performance experiences because even small degradations will cause buyers to go elsewhere in an instant. Holiday 2017 will likely magnify these trends, and the summer leaves only a small window of time for online retailers to prepare for the coming onslaught. For many retailers, there are peaks in August and September for back-to-school shopping, and then things progress quickly into Halloween and early holiday promotions, making it a daunting task to find the time to properly prepare their sites for peak traffic.


So, in the limited time you’ll have for preparation, here are the top five ways to prepare for holiday 2017—consider this the “wish list” for online retailing:

  • Make your site mobile-friendly – This should be the first item on your list. The mobile device is the preferred device for product research.  Retailers don’t want to miss out on this first chance to impress their customers.  Take a mobile-first attitude when designing a retail site, and utilize design methodologies such as responsive web design (RWD) or a combination of adaptive and responsive, referred to as RESS (responsive with server side).  Employing responsive design or RESS has been shown to improve the customer experience and help reduce frustration for mobile users by making the browsing experience more fluid through the reduction of “pinch and zoom” movements for navigation. You should also expect to see improvements in your SEO strategy, as Google is advising retailers to make the switch to RWD sites before it  rolls out its mobile first index.
  • Optimize images for each device type – High-quality images have been shown to increase customer engagement and lead to higher conversions. However, images can be a big performance liability and often account for more than 60 percent of a page download time. This problem is exacerbated on mobile devices when a large desktop-sized image is downloaded and visually resized; performance is degraded because the actual image size is not decreased. Retailers need to utilize a digital asset management strategy that delivers only the correct-sized image based on the consumer device and the proper type of image based on the browser. In this way, performance can be dramatically increased by not only serving the correct-sized image for the viewport but also allowing retailers to dynamically take advantage of new high- performance image formats such as WebP.
  • Optimize your site for human traffic – Retail sites on average see around 40 percent of traffic from non-human bot traffic. While some of this traffic, such as Google bot, is necessary, much of it is unwanted traffic, like content scrapers, or malicious in nature. It is important to understand the type and source of traffic that is coming to your site and develop a strategy for intelligently managing the bots and web crawlers that can slow your site down. The priority should be serving real customers!
  • Monitor for real user metrics – Utilizing Real User Monitoring (RUM) data to identify the specific pages that are negatively impacting conversions and then prioritizing fixes for those pages are critical.  RUM measurements that accurately track a real user’s session performance data is much more actionable than traditional synthetic or waterfall measurements and can quickly highlight problem areas such as slow-loading assets or delays caused by third-party scripts. Having proactive management of third-party tags that create performance-limiting overhead, including IT, marketing and tracking pixels, and removing unneeded or duplicate tags or disabling any tags that perform poorly during peak traffic periods are key. It’s critical that all scripts are loaded asynchronously so that they don’t block other website code from loading.
  • Ensure scalability – Load test your site, back-end infrastructure and code to ensure readiness for peak seasons.  When running tests, do so in patterns that mimic how real users would access the site by taking usage patterns from analytics tools to build the flow. For instance, some retailers see customers add items to a cart ahead of big sale dates like Black Friday, when the traffic peaks, and then go straight from the cart to checkout.  To ensure the best results, retailers need to make sure their cloud load testing is taking into consideration these real-world types of user behavior patterns. In addition, it is a best practice to plan for more traffic than you project, so doubling your projections will ensure that the site is ready for additional traffic and unexpected peaks.

If you’re an online merchant, make website performance —particularly for mobile users—the first item on your “wish list.” But the time to start planning is NOW, because the dog days of summer will soon give way to the season’s onslaught of demanding customers. By implementing performance-enhancement strategies and technologies to better serve customers across a variety of devices and channels, omnichannel retailers can provide an outstanding customer experience that keeps customers engaged and clicking on the “buy” button, delivering a happy holiday season and setting the stage for a prosperous New Year for all!

Akamai Technologies provides content delivery network services to 327 of the Top 1000, Internet Retailer’s ranking of the leading online retailers in North America.