How Long Will Your Customers Wait?

pocketwatchTHREE seconds. Although many expect your pages to load in under 2 seconds. At least that is what the latest study conducted by Forrester Consulting found to be the case among 1000+ online shoppers. What this boils down to is shoppers expect fast loading webpages, and are willing to go elsewhere if a site is too slow or confusing.

What can we learn from these findings?

Who You Host with Matters

If consumers expect your webpages to load in 3 seconds or less, where you choose to host your ecommerce website is of vital importance. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:

  • Choosing a low cost host to save a few bucks
    For an ecommerce website, choosing the right host has a direct impact on how well your site performs, and whether you are capturing as many sales as possible. Many low cost budget hosts have to cut corners in terms of the hardware used, how many accounts they put on each server, and their support resources are often stretched thin when problems arise. Often times these servers are overloaded, resulting in slower loading pages, which can significantly contribute to higher cart abandonment rates. Make sure you choose a host that focuses on e-commerce and is geared towards business level hosting.
  • Not asking the right questions before signing up
    Here are a few questions to ask before signing up:
    1. How many accounts do you put on any one server?
    2. What familiarity do you have with the XYZ ecommerce software I plan on using?
    3. How is the performance of each server measured and monitored?
    4. What is the average load on your typical server?
  • Choosing a host that packs their servers to the gills
    This ties into the above pitfall of choosing a low cost host, but any host can be susceptible to this issue. Make sure your host is not trying to squeeze every ounce out of their servers. A balanced ecommerce focused host will make sure there is ample “reserve” in terms of CPU, memory, and drive IO load so that a spike in traffic or activity will not degrade your website’s performance. If your control panel seems slow, FTP seems slow at multiple times throughout the day, you can bet your customers are noticing this as well.

Be Careful with External Image and JavaScript Calls

Some merchants love to add third party tracking scripts, add-ons and plugins called from other websites, and external seals and images. However, they often fail to realize that these remotely loaded scripts and images can cause their pages to load more slowly, and can sometimes cause the page not to load at all. Here are a few things to watch out for…

  • Have external scripts and seals load as close to the bottom of the page as possible
    Having these tracking scripts, seals, and other remotely loaded items close to the bottom of the page will allow the majority of your page to load quickly even if these remote sites are down or loading slowly.
  • Only use what is necessary
    If you’re not really mining the data from a tracking script, or that neat flash add-on is simply “eye candy”, remove it from your pages. Minimize external issues that can negatively affect your page load times.
  • Only use reputable third party sites
    If you’re loading code from another site, make sure they have invested the time and resources so their site and code will always be available and load quickly. Avoid small / hobby sites that provide remote code, as their availability and speed can change at any given moment. (That’s not to say large sites will always be stellar, as we’ve seen Google Analytics cause slower page loads at various times.)
  • Host it locally if possible
    If you’re using Google Analytics, consider using Urchin if your host offers it. This way all the code is hosted locally. If you’re using a remote Javascript library, see if you can load it directly in your site. Whenever possible, have the content load locally so you have control over performance and speed.

Keep it Streamlined

If the content you’re adding is not directly tied into your goal of getting people to purchase your products/services, consider removing it. Avoid the overuse of flash and complex javascript that does not add value to your site. But *DO* add pictures and and videos as they relate to your products, as consumers love more detail about a product they wish to purchase (multiple views, zoom-in, 3D rendering, video of the product being used, etc…)

Another simple solution is to use static html pages wherever possible. Dynamic pages can often take longer to load, and in some cases (e.g. Magento) can be real hogs in terms of resources used and time to load. Consider using a shopping cart solution such as ShopSite which creates static html pages. These pages will always load fast, and tend to rank better with respect to SEO.

KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid

People get easily confused and frustrated. A confused or frustrated online shopper is likely to browse elsewhere, and tell the people around them about their bad experience. The data and survey results show this to be the case in a majority of abandoned carts and lost sales. Remove obstacles and complexity throughout the shopping experience (easy to find add to cart buttons, clean and simple flow from the cart to the thank you page, no extra questions / steps that are extraneous).

Unclear Shipping = More Abandoned Carts

A large percentage of customers cited unclear shipping and too expensive shipping options as a major reason why they would shop elsewhere. We’ve covered these shipping issues in more detail in previous posts about Customizing Shipping and Tips for Shipping Options.

Performance of Your Website is a Major Factor

In looking at the Forrester research and other sources of information, it’s apparent that the performance and speed of your website has a direct correlation to how potential buyers view your store, and ultimately whether they will complete a purchase. This is good news, as merchants have a lot of control over who they host with, and what content they put on their pages. Investing time and money into a stable platform and streamlined content can pay huge dividends in terms of increasing sales and decreasing cart abandonment.

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