Improved Speed & Performance Drives Conversions - Roundtable Discussions at eTail Connect 2016 UK

Andrew Bartlam

eTail Connect UK

Last week at eTail Connect in the salubrious surroundings of Sopwell House in St Albans, United Kingdom, I was asked by our colleagues at WBR, the conference organisers, to moderate four group discussion sessions. These centered around the importance of website and mobile performance in driving conversions.

I was fortunate to have impressive characters from the world of eCommerce join me. These included Eimear Sinnott, Head of Online Category Management at House of Fraser; Ryan Thomas, Managing Director at Liberty; Mark Dugdale, Digital & CRM Director at L'Occitane; Sayad Gaffar, Head of International eCommerce at Mothercare; Steve Masterton, Multi-Channel Director at Dunelm; Inge Lok, Head of Digital of Bathstore; and Tony Rivenell Chief Digital Officer at Halfords.

In the spirit of Chatham House rules I won’t share who said what specifically but I thought a quick summary of some key findings that might pique your interest.

Firstly let’s be clear, performance is not the only thing that drives conversion — there are of course other things (things like personalization, price, etc.) — but it’s a big thing that can have a very big impact. People are fickle and will only tolerate slow websites and mobile initiatives to a certain degree before taking their business and eyeballs elsewhere. We all do it! When was the last time you abandoned a website because pages took too long to load?

In two of these sessions in particular we looked at the free service, and across the board it was clear that websites today are so much heavier than they were a year, or two, or three ago. In a bid to satisfy clients and give them a compelling and contextual experience, we now see so much JavaScript, so many high-resolution images, personalization, dynamic content, etc. Ironically, it’s also clear that the “pipe” through which we as website users consume this data is getting smaller and tighter (3G, 4G, WiFi, etc.).

eCommerce Boost – Panel

One of the group members said (and I paraphrase a little here as I didn’t write this down verbatim), “It’s a pain... often users misinterpret site speed as being network speed. We get the blame for poor network access. There really isn’t much we can do about that.” Well... I’d beg to differ. We at Instart Logic (and to be fair probably some other innovative vendors too) have looked at innovative ways not just to produce more performant websites by optimising content, but also at ways of dramatically speeding up network traffic, particularly to mobile apps. This is done by involving (and I’m not going to get too techie here) a new protocol to augment the 20-year-old TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). It’s called DPR (Dynamic Packet Recovery) and has a great advantage in that it employs something called rate limiting.

Here’s a great real world example. On the motorways (“freeways” to our friends in the USA) in Europe, traffic agencies have introduced “variable speed limits.” These slow all traffic down, reduce braking effect and, ironically, the effect of limiting the distance between cars ends up speeding drivers up over the course of their journey. The same can be said for content delivered to mobile apps. Employing rate limiting can have a huge impact on the speed of content delivery. We’ve seen up to 70% faster speeds for mobile apps. My challenge to vendors out there who have apps is this: come and check this stuff out. It’s very fast and a no-obligation trial is available.

However... getting back to performance driving conversion, one of the eCommerce directors present was also keen to point out, “we spend so much time on our website that we do not really sweep the floors at the backend.” They were referring of course to the burgeoning volumes of JavaScript libraries that grow every year as our websites become heavier. “Ah,” said another Chief Digital Officer, “we don’t have that problem, we did a complete re-platform and cut this down massively.”  

Well... that can kind of work, but we all know it builds up again, and then you’ve got the same challenge in another year's time. An analogy I often use here is the one about bailing out a boat: you can bail super fast, but unless you keep bailing, you’re going to fill up again. Getting back to the point, how much effort does it take to replatform? How many consultants did you have to hire to do this? How much manual effort did it take?

So what can be done? Well, to use an old adage, how about working not just harder, but smarter? The application of machine learning technology to provide content optimization, image compression and other innovative ways to deliver content has enabled many large retailers to focus more attention on the front end without having to “sweep the floors” so much.

After the eTail Connect UK, I revisited some of the quick “on the fly” measurements we did of total KB that websites weighed now as opposed to 12 months ago. We ran 9 tests and, on average, these 9 retailer websites were 42% “heavier” than last year. Oh, by the way... the pipe through which users are consuming that data isn’t any bigger than it was 12 months ago. Think about that for a second, we are trying to send almost twice as much data down a pipe that has not grown in size. They do say that the definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!

In summary, it’s clear from the CDOs, Heads of eCommerce and Heads of Omni-channel whom I met that not only are these a group of splendid people, but that they are all looking for ways to find the right balance between optimizing their web and mobile initiatives for client stickiness and performance. The goal is to drive conversions and loyalty, but at the same time, paying attention to the burgeoning backend.

At the risk of one analogy too many, or at least returning to my boat analogy earlier, how about an automatic bailing machine which keeps your boat from getting too weighed down, allowing you to concentrate on rowing the boat and, not just getting to where you are going, but getting there way faster than your competition.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and I’ll happily get a free performance test turned round to you in 24 hours, showing how much faster your site can be. Best of all, you don’t have to do a thing — just tell me which website you would like a free test for!

See you at the next eTail event!

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