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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Why Slow Website Performance Hurts Retail Websites

image for Mr_Mrs_Marcha/Shutterstock
Mr_Mrs_Marcha/Shutterstock
  • 90% of shoppers polled said they left an e-commerce site that failed to load fast enough.
  • 57% of respondents said that, after leaving a slow site, they purchased products from a similar retailer, while 40% said they went to Amazon instead.
  • Almost one-fourth of online shoppers said they never returned to slow e-commerce sites.

When it comes to doing anything on the internet, speed and immediacy are king. While there is research that debunks the idea that the internet has shortened our attention spans, it remains imperative that online businesses have speedy websites. According to research released earlier this month, the shopper's experience with your website is so important that it can be the difference between closing a sale and helping your competition.

For the third consecutive year, Retail Systems Research has released its Retailer Website Performance Evaluation. Sponsored by Yottaa, the report examined 80 retail sites, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Dick's Sporting Goods and Ulta Beauty, to measure site speed and the overall shopper experience. Retailer websites were tested on desktop and mobile performance.

While previous years saw the report focusing solely on website performance, researchers said they recognized how difficult it was to compete online with the likes of Amazon and had no interest in "flogging retailers for their attempt to 'run like hell' in order to catch up." As a result, this year's report is the first time that it included a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. shoppers to find out how important website performance was to them.

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Today's consumers are a savvy bunch. They're aware of what they want and in tune with what is and isn't a waste of their time. As such, researchers say an online business's website should respect its customers' patience.

Researchers said they determined a site's overall functionality not only by how it ran on a computer or mobile device, but also by how shoppers felt when navigating it. They asked questions about whether a site's performance hindered navigation and if there was any pop-up interference.

Regardless of how an online retailer's website functions, if it doesn't load quickly, that can spell doom for its bottom line. According to the report, among the 1,300 shoppers polled, 90% said they left an e-commerce site if it failed to load in the amount of time they expected. While that figure is eye-opening, what's worse is that when they left, 57% went on to purchase something from a similar site, and 40% said they went on to buy from Amazon.

Even more troubling is that just 12% said they would complain to the retailer about their experience. That means that if your website is performing poorly, you're far less likely to hear about it from your customers than you are to lose business.

This year, the overall pool of retailers scored poorly. The highest-scoring retailer was Backcountry.com with a 68% score. Researchers said their consumer data suggested that shoppers "are not willing to grade on a curve – they want to act now, and they are more than willing to leave for someone who can provide that."

Additionally, 52% of respondents said they had left a site and bought elsewhere up to twice in the last six months, while 35% said it happened to them 3-5 times. The remaining 12% were split evenly between 5-10 times and "more times than I can count."

That frequency in slow retail experiences ends up being the most troubling to consumers. According to the data, 53% said their biggest issue with slow retail sites was that they were "wasting their personal time."

Now that we know how consumers feel about slow retail websites, what could be causing the problem? Researchers found that part of the problem is slow third-party requests and a lack of consistency between the desktop and mobile experience.

While consumers generally see third-party functionality like product ratings and product comparison tools as a good thing, researchers found that retail websites are often too bogged down by these tools for them to do any good. In fact, they found that some pages were slowed down largely because they needed to load too much information if the retailer went overboard with third-party options. This situation was consistent between retailers' homepages and product detail pages, whether they were being accessed on a desktop computer or mobile device.

Researchers also found instances where retailers lacked consistency between their mobile and desktop websites. In some cases, the look and feel were vastly different. In others, mobile users weren't getting the same deals as desktop users and vice versa. The latter issue was seen across multiple retailers, including IKEA, Patagonia, T.J. Maxx, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores, and Karmaloop. Researchers said Men's Wearhouse was particularly bad about this, with several coupons and codes available on the mobile site that were never mentioned on the desktop site.

Slow website loading times may not seem important to worry about when you're facing so many other challenges as a business owner, but this data from Retail Systems Research and Yottaa should help change that perception. While the report warns retailers against slow shopping experiences for the third year in a row, researchers pointed out a couple things that can fix the problem.

To start, retailers shouldn't move to abandon third-party technologies. Researchers said most of the top-performing sites used a large number of those add-ons. The key is to "balance performance optimization efforts with the need to engage shoppers." That includes making sure your offers are consistent between the two website versions.

You should also follow these tips:

  • Take your website's performance seriously.
  • Focus on your mobile experience first.
  • Make promotions consistent.
  • Optimize your third-party tech.
  • Shop your own site the way your consumer does.
  • Don't sacrifice the shopping experience to make the site run faster.
  • Don't prioritize desktop over mobile.
  • Don't remove third-party features.
  • Don't clutter your site with pop-ups.
  • Don't ignore how shoppers feel about poor website performance.
Andrew Martins

Andrew Martins is an award-winning journalist with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey. Before joining Business.com and Business News Daily, he wrote for a regional publication and served as the managing editor for six weekly papers that spanned four counties. Currently, he is responsible for reviewing tax software and online fax services. He is a New Jersey native and a first-generation Portuguese American, and he has a penchant for the nerdy.