December 2, 2004, 12:00 AM

Web sites’ age is hurting performance for many retailers, analyst says

A trend popping up among many online retailers is web site infrastructure that cannot accommodate the shopping experience expectations driven up by broadband and experienced shoppers, Meta Group analyst Gene Alvarez says.

A trend popping up among many online retailers is web site infrastructure that cannot accommodate the shopping experience expectations driven up by broadband and experienced shoppers, Meta Group vice president and retail analyst Gene Alvarez tells InternetRetailer.com.

“The age of web sites is starting to come more into play,” he says. “Sites launched in ’95 and ’96 had a lot of components developed in-house, including site search, web content management and digital asset management. These home-grown components not only carry a maintenance burden, but a performance burden.”

In addition, many older web sites were developed as stand-alone selling channels that cannot accommodate the growing demand today for multi-channel sales and service. “We’ve gone beyond just selling something online, to selling and providing customer service across multiple channels,” he says. “For example, digital cameras are complex, so consumers may want to learn about them on the web but then still go into a store, where a store associate could also use the web to look up details and help explain them. But it doesn’t help if the retailer’s site takes too long to come up.”

Retailers need to take a hard look at their overall site design and infrastructure-from page design to the number of web servers-to produce the best performance at the best price, Alvarez says.

“It’s a very hard balance between providing so much merchandising material, including images and text, to get shoppers interested in your product, and at the same time have pages that come up quickly,” Alvarez says. “It’s like racing yachts. Everything you take on board slows the speed, but if you start taking things off you may get rid of something you need. So you’re constantly reviewing what stays on and what goes off.”

Smart retailers, he says, are improving page design in site makeovers before deciding on the amount of servers and other hardware needed to support their site. A good example, he adds, is the recent re-launch of CircuitCity.com, which presents several images and useful information on its pages without overloading them.

“You can always add another server to increase performance, but that’s another cost that could be like dumping more fuel into a an inefficient car.”

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