You can blame 'heavy' webpages for frustrating online shopping delays

Posted on Nov 23 2016 - 2:44am by Huzoor Bux


There are few hallmarks of the holiday shopping season more frustrating than those infamous Black Friday check-out lines. 

It’s bad enough to have struggled through the crowds before sunrise in a battle for doorbuster specials. Waiting in line among the mass of other shoppers after the adrenaline has worn off and counting on an overtaxed seasonal employee manning the register to make the process run smoothly is even worse. 

There may be one other experience that can measure up on the frustration-scale: an online shopping system delay. 

The physical commitment and stress might not be on the same level, but being stripped of the advantages of buying online — staying home, dodging crowds and not being required to put on pants chief among them — is an unpleasant shock. In-store shoppers expect the lines, but online shoppers expect the instant gratification of clearing their shopping cart with a click.

That’s one of the reasons why digital performance management company Dynatrace keeps an eye on the page speeds of the top retail sites across the internet. According to its research, with speed comes sales — but with a slowdown, as little as a 0.5 second decrease in page response time, internet retailers see a 10 percent decrease in purchases as impatient customers abandon their virtual carts.   

Image: dynatrace/screengrab

For retailers, then, speed is a major priority. In a year-over-year comparison, 2016 appears to be the best year yet for online shoppers looking to avoid web lag. Page speeds have increased by about .03 seconds.

Image: Dynatrace/screengrab

But that speed comes with a caveat. As these pages have gotten faster in the past year, they have also added more information. Retail pages in 2016 are on average 7 percent “heavier” (loaded with data) and connect to 16 percent more third-parties than they did last year.

Dynatrace’s Director of Sales Engineering and APM Evangelism David Jones thinks that this could possibly spell trouble in the page speed department.  

“When we look at the top performing online retailers, they tend to be light,” he told Mashable. “That means they’re not sending a ton of data over the wire to the customer. But some of the [sites] at the bottom of the performance list all tend to serve a lot more content. They tend to be slower as you wait for that data to be transferred to your phone or mobile device.”

Third parties, which are other entities contributing data to a webpage (which might range from social media connections to advertising to analytics services) also tend to gum up the speed. 

“Sites that perform really well tend not to use as many third parties as the bottom performers,” Jones said. “Apple is a perfect example of this. Every time you go to the Apple site, there are only four hosts that are involved. That’s it, every single time.”

But not every retailer has the out-and-out power of the second most valuable company in the world — so their pages are supplemented by advertising and other outside links. An average of 42 hosts contributes data to webpages within the retail industry, Jones said.

For the 2016 season, Jones expects there to be relatively speedy load times — but there’s bound to be some mishaps.

“We’ve been doing this for about 10 years now,” he said. “There hasn’t been a year that’s gone by where we haven’t seen at least a couple of retailers stumble.”

These stumbles typically come right as the heaviest volume of online shopping kicks off: 12:01 a.m. Friday morning.

“More often than not, as soon as it hits midnight on Thanksgiving Thursday, sites do a hard switchover to Black Friday mode,” Jones said. “Doing that sudden switch in production is where a lot of organizations tend to get tripped up. I fully expect that to happen to a few retailers again this year.”

But, even with the intense level of focus on retail sites during the holiday shopping season, this is still a remarkable achievement in Jones’ eyes. 

“The IT infrastructure these retail sites sit on top of is ridiculously complex,” he said. “I work in this industry, and every time I go to these sites I’m amazed at how well they work, with how many different points of failure there are along that delivery chain. Even the smallest, most minute change could be a serious potential point of risk. People pay it no mind and just assume that it will work. To this day, it still amazes me as well as these companies do.”

So this year, if you load up your digital cart and experience a half-second delay before the transaction goes through, don’t just click out of the window in disgust. Take that extra moment to be thankful that you’re not fighting for a spot in line at the store, let the page load, and appreciate the convenience these IT systems provide. 

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