This is the third in a series of articles on how online retailers can prepare for the holiday season.
According to Forrester Research, in 2017, the combined top-line US and Europe holiday sales were $1 trillion. As for the online portion of that huge number, Forrester projected $129 billion in the US and €54 billion in Europe last year. Virtually every retailer has already made their platform technology purchases to try and get a larger piece of the upcoming online holiday business, which will increase significantly, according to nearly every projection.
Many online commerce providers have invested significant time, money and effort to optimize their websites and apps to drive down bounce rates and to entice visitors by focusing on speeding up page load times. Yet optimizing your site for a superior customer experience (CX) to attract and convert visitors into paying customers doesn’t just mean fixing the slowest pages. Very often, web pages consist of a variety of elements and content that can come from different sources. There are a lot of other factors and environments, such as mobile devices, that must be considered when improving the CX to increase sales.
Providing a positive CX for mobile visitors has been growing in importance in the past few years. According to the Kleiner Perkins 2018 Internet Trends report, from 2016 to 2017, growth in the number of mobile shopping app sessions averaged 6 percent. Of the ten user activity categories included, such as Music/Media/Entertainment, Business/Finance, Sports and others, Shopping lead the way with an increase of 54 percent, dramatically higher than the 6 percent average.
Forrester also reported that in the past three months, 73 percent of US adult smartphone owners researched physical products on their smartphones while they were in a store, and 46 percent of smartphone users in the five biggest Western European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) had researched products for purchase on their phones.
In parallel, shoppers are getting more and more impatient as the years go on. According to Akamai research, the mobile bounce rate was lowest (38.24 percent) at page load times just over 1.5 seconds during the 2017 holiday shopping season. Contrast this with a 44.28 percent bounce rate at a 3-second page load time. What’s more, site visitors spend a mere 59 seconds or less on a web page on average according to the Nielsen Norman Group, meaning the clock is literally ticking for retailers to capture shoppers’ interests and ultimately their purchases.
Optimizing for Mobile Visitors
Forrester’s first recommendation in the previously referenced report is “Revamping your mobile site — yes, you still can (and must).” Visual content is a critical factor towards providing a great mobile CX and you should examine what you currently provide. A BigCommerce research study found that 78 percent of online shoppers want more images and 30 percent want more video from e-commerce sites. However, meeting this content demand can create slowdowns, such as improperly formatted images for mobile screens versus desktop, for example.
According to an eMarketer report, the vast majority of mobile phone screens in use in North America and Europe range from 4.6” to 6.0”, but screen sizes actively in use start at 4.0” and end at 6.5”. So being able to format content for the multitude of these screen sizes is extremely challenging. And wouldn’t it be great to demonstrate how leading edge your organization is by supporting the recently announced iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max screens this holiday season? However, you made your platform choice months ago and it’s locked down; how feasible is it for you to add image management technology in time for the upcoming holiday season?
In addition, optimizing for mobile goes beyond just delivering smaller files for mobile devices—in some cases the images themselves may need to be entirely different. A case in point, at the June 2018 Internet Retailer Conference in Chicago, a digital commerce manager for a major food provider explained how a picture of their cookies on a shelf they use for desktop visitors wouldn’t work on a mobile device because the visitor wouldn’t be able to discern the brand on the desktop image displayed on a much smaller mobile screen; instead they present a different image, a close-up of just the cookie package to mobile visitors so it’s instantly recognizable.
Video content presents another set of performance issues. Linking to content hosted by a third party opens up the page delivery to delays beyond a developer’s control. Utilizing first-person content will help to manage and minimize delays, but carries the same formatting and other requirements for the vast variety of mobile devices that images carry.
Managing and delivering images and videos for a variety of platforms, browsers and use cases that can number in the thousands poses a significant burden for organizations. Do you have the in-house resources to size and reformat this multitude of images, let alone manage them? Retailers should investigate systems that do this efficiently and quickly with little to zero interaction by the web developer. This will help to mitigate the business impact of the web page slowdowns and increase mobile traffic, time spent on the site, and ultimately, purchases and repeat visitors.
Keep the bad guys out (and your website up).
All of your investments in CX are for naught if your site is unavailable, defaced, or if Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or other sensitive data such as passwords is compromised. If this happens, it will significantly damage your reputation and keep customers away, negatively impacting your ability to generate revenue now or in the future. So cybersecurity is a critical capability beyond the minimum requirements for compliance and certification when you plan for peak.
Attacks such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, which are comprised of botnets that deny visitors access to a given website or page, are growing significantly and impacting all sectors. Retail is no exception; in 2017 the number of reported attacks was 1,579 and it is the most compromised sector for the fifth year in a row.
A bot (short for Internet robot or Web robot) is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Note that some bots serve a useful function. Search engines use them for web crawling, in which an automated script fetches, analyzes and files information from web servers at many times the speed of a human. Botnets are a series of web-connected devices running a bot (or bots) leveraged to steal data, conduct DDoS attacks and/or give the attacker control over the devices.
In the case of DDoS attacks, botnets can negatively impact web application performance because they assemble multiple systems (literally thousands) to submit as many requests as possible to a single internet computer or service, overloading it and preventing it from servicing legitimate requests. This can manifest itself in use cases such as an apparel manufacturer releasing a limited edition piece of clothing and customers not being able to place orders because the site is unable to respond. Keep in mind the data mentioned above about how mobile bounce rates increase rapidly when mobile sites load slowly. There is a very short threshold before frustrated visitors go elsewhere and deny you their business.
When designing websites to meet peak traffic demands, it is vital to look beyond basic metrics such as page load speed. Providing visual content optimized for both desktop and mobile devices, and working with your IT department to ensure the proper security measures are in place to combat security threats will put your organization in a better position to drive traffic and improve conversion rates during the holiday shopping season and beyond. The number one priority should be providing the best customer experience possible, especially for mobile visitors. Keeping these tips in mind can help you do just that and grow your revenue.
Akamai provides content delivery network services to 354 of the Top 1000 online retailers in North America