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Online Sales Lagging? Check Your Page Load Times

Think your site is fast?

Well, here’s hoping you’re right. According to a new report from web performance firm Soasta, consumers have shorter attention spans than marketers may realize—which means your site load time might be undermining your online sales.

The findings, which analyzed 10 billion user visits from a variety of retail sites, dig deep into user experience to determine what turns shoppers off and what you can do about it. These insights could allow you to better position yourself against competitors, especially the 1,000-pound gorilla in every e-commerce discussion: Amazon.

“While the rest of the digital marketplace was simply driving visitors to websites, Amazon built an online business based on understanding those visitors through data science and performance analytics,” according to Tammy Everts, senior researcher at Soasta. “To compete with Amazon, you need to understand how real users are experiencing your site, and how even small or intermittent slowdowns could be hurting your business.”

Amazon is known for being hyper focused on its customer, and that includes analyzing how every millisecond affects their shopping decisions.

So what do you need to know to compete? First, forget everything you learned in Kindergarten. When it comes to conversion rates, the hare will always beat the tortoise. Soasta’s research found pages that converted were up to 26 percent faster than those that didn’t. Second, there’s no such thing as fast enough. When it comes to e-commerce, time is literally money.

Load times

While the average conversion rate on desktop computers was found to be 4.1%, that number jumps to 12.8% for sites that load in 1.8 seconds. Similarly, pages that load on tablets at 1.9 seconds see conversion rates of 7.2%, compared to only 2.7% for slower loads.

“In other words, if you’re chugging along, assuming that your average desktop conversion rate of 4.1% is just fine because it falls within industry norms, you’re missing out on opportunities to optimize web performance and increase conversions,” Everts said.

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For instance, Walmart found that every second it trimmed from its page load times resulted in a 2 percent return on investment, according to the report. Similarly, Fanatics’ mobile conversions nearly doubled after it shaved two seconds off its median page load time.

Conversely, for every tenth of a second your site lags on a desktop, conversions drop by 2.4%. The drop off is even steeper for tablets and phones with 3.8% and 7.1% respectively.

At just two seconds slower than optimal (3.8 seconds), conversion rates on desktops fall by 37 percent. A two second lag results in a conversion rate that’s more than 25 percent lower on both tablets and phones.

Bounce rates

The next metric the study analyzed was bounce rates, or the percentage of visitors that leave your site after viewing only one page. Here again, the faster your pages load, the better your shop will perform. The average bounce rate on desktop is 43 percent but that number drops to as little as 13.1% for those pages that load within 1 second. At three seconds, the bounce rate increases by 62.1%.

Mobile shoppers are particularly prone to navigating away from a slow site. The study showed that an average of 51.8% of phone visitors bounce. That number drops considerably to 14.1% for pages that load within 700 milliseconds.

One big factor of bounce rate is start render time, or how quickly something—anything—appears in your visitors’ browser window. Not surprisingly, shoppers are particularly impatient with blank screens. To minimize bounce rates, pages need to be begin rendering between 0.9 seconds (on desktops) and 1.5 seconds (for tablets).

Session lengths

A slow site also means potential shoppers will spend less time on your site overall. Again, seconds count. For sites that perform one second slower than optimal, the number of pages visitors click through will drop by more than 24 percent on both desktops and phones. By comparison, tablets suffer a 15.3% loss. At two seconds, session lengths for mobile users increase to 51 percent.

Final analysis

To capture more sales through better site performance, Soasta recommends a three-pronged approach.

First, crunch the numbers for your site. While you can use the data in the report is a benchmark, you’ll need to determine how conversion rates and bounce times on your site are affected by device and load time. Be sure to analyze these numbers down to the 100 millisecond.

Second, don’t forget start render rates. “The goal is to get a 360-degree view of the performance of your digital properties, so you can make informed choices about what to optimize and what the ROI will be,” Everts said.

Finally, do this assessment on a regular basis. Don’t assume that today’s site performance will lead to the same results down the road. At the rate at which technology is evolving, things change within a blink of an eye.