Every Day Is Cyber Monday. Is Your Site Delivering the Best Possible User Experience?

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With the allure of Black Friday weekend fading, online retailers are discovering that every day is Cyber Monday. Online shoppers expect deep discounts, free shipping, and a top-drawer user experience every day of the holiday shopping season. In this post, we’ll look at four strategies site owners are implementing to give shoppers a richer online experience, and the performance pitfalls (and solutions!) for each strategy.

Radware_SOTU_Fall_2014_Infographic_FinalFirst, here’s a quick roundup of stats around this past four-day shopping weekend:

  • Black Friday weekend sales slid by 11%. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), estimated in-store and online sales dropped from $57.4 billion in 2013 to $50.9 billion this year. Shoppers spent an average of $380.95 each over the four-day weekend, compared to $407.02 in 2013. [source]
  • The reason for the slump in Black Friday weekend sales: more retailers are using strategies such as early in-store discounting and everyday deep online discounts. Because of this, “every day will be Black Friday. Every minute will be Cyber Monday,” according to Matt Shay, CEO of the NRF. [source]
  • The NRF still stands by its prediction that total holiday spending in 2014 will surpass spending in 2013. It expects sales in November and December to grow by 4.1% over last year, hitting $616.9 billion. [source]
  • Of the $616.9 billion in holiday sales this year, $72 billion will be spent online. [source]

“Holiday sales are now a marathon, not a sprint.”

In October, Radware released our quarterly state of the union report on the page speed and performance of the top 100 ecommerce sites. In it, we anticipated that competition for holiday spending would be greater than ever, as more and more retailers fight for their share of the holiday ecommerce pie. The NRF agrees.

“It’s going to be a dogfight for the entire season every day, every minute,” says NRF CEO Matt Shay. “Holiday sales are now a marathon, not a sprint.”

As part of this dogfight, many retailers are leveraging aggressive strategies to attract and retain consumer attention. These strategies include:

  • Increased use of high-resolution video and images
  • More experimentation with geo-targeting campaigns and geo-targeted content
  • More third-party scripts
  • Increased implementation of responsive web design (RWD)

Each of these strategies offers a competitive advantage — and each also presents a performance challenge. Read on to learn how to mitigate these challenges.

1. High-resolution video and imagery

Visual content is powerful. In order to give online shoppers a richer, more immersive shopping experience, retailers are adding an unprecedented volume of video to product detail pages. Retailers are also including more large, high-resolution images to meet consumer demand for a granular level of product detail, particularly for consumers using devices with retina displays.

But video and high-resolution images both come with high bandwidth demands, not to mention significant performance penalties. A recent neurological study commissioned by Radware found that Internet users are highly sensitive to how images render: 51% of users wait for most or all of a page’s images to load before they begin to interact with the page, and some image formats (such as baseline images) deliver a greater level of user engagement than others (such as progressive images).

The performance pitfalls generated by images must be mitigated, or else retailers risk seeing the conversion gains realized by using a highly visual strategy compromised by conversion losses caused by slow load times.

Solutions: To make visual content render more efficiently, ensure images are compressed, consolidated, correctly sized and formatted, and optimized so that images “below the fold” are deferred to load after the pages primary “above the fold” content.

2. Geo-targeted content

Geo-location tools identify each shopper’s country, state, or city in order to serve highly specialized deals, content, and product offerings in local languages and currencies. While geo-targeting offers clear value to shoppers (who receive the most relevant content) and to site owners (who can tailor campaigns and messaging for each audience), it can be complex at a programmatic level. Depending on the skill with which it is implemented, the JavaScript required to query a geolocation database can be slow or non-responsive, leading to pages that are sluggish or, worse, pages that fail to load.

Solutions: If possible, defer geo-location scripts so that they load after critical page content. If deferral isn’t an option, then use an asynchronous version of the script, which loads in parallel with critical content.

3. Third-party scripts

Third-party scripts – from ads to recommendation engines to analytics to tracking/retargeting beacons – offer a great deal of potential value to retailers. This value is the reason why retail web pages are increasingly laden with third-party scripts. Third-party scripts can make up 50% or more of a typical page’s server requests. Not only do these scripts increase page weight and latency, they also represent the single greatest potential point of failure for web pages. All it takes is one non-responsive, unoptimized third-party script to take down an entire site.

Solutions: As with geo-location scripts, defer third-party scripts so that they load after critical page content. If deferral is not an option (as with some analytics tools and third-party advertisers), then use an asynchronous version of the script. You should always know which scripts are live on your site, prune dead scripts, and monitor third-party performance constantly.

4. Responsive web design (RWD)

Despite all the talk about responsive design, it’s not yet widely implemented. As site owners increasingly acknowledge the challenges of delivering a consistent, rich user experience across an ever-growing range of platforms and devices, more and more ecommerce sites will adopt responsive – or a marriage of responsive and adaptive – design. While some of this development is implemented with performance in mind, most will not. As a result, we’re seeing page sizes continue to increase dramatically, with pages of 3MB or more becoming a common sight.

Solution: Implement RWD with a “performance first” philosophy. Bear in mind that, in one ad hoc survey of responsively designed websites, the common thread among the fastest pages was that all were under 1 MB in size.

Conclusion

As site owners strive to offer their customers the best possible deals this holiday season, those who also remember to offer the best possible user experience – an experience that is both rich and speedy – will be most successful.

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