February 5, 2008, 12:00 AM

How online retailers make sure their door is always open with the lights on

JupiterResearch and Panasonic share data and experience on site performance monitoring with attendees at the Internet Retailer Web Design Conference ’08.

Not long ago, monitoring site performance meant making sure that the site was available when called up by web users, and that web page downloads didn’t exceed a designated time. But monitoring needs have changed as web sites and web content have grown more complex, meaning that performance monitoring requirements have changed as well, John Lovett, web operations analyst at JupiterResearch, told attendees last week at the Internet Retailer Web Design Conference ’08 in Miami.

Lovett shared the platform with Jeremy Dalnes, vice president of e-business at Panasonic, who spoke about how the consumer electronics manufacturer leverages site performance data to work with its IT staff.

Web site performance is vulnerable to issues ranging from traffic loads to geography-based connection problems, Lovett said. Recent research from Jupiter found that 38% of web site operators surveyed had content that failed to render when called up by the click of a web site visitor, for example. 40% of those surveyed had experienced an unplanned outage of their primary web site, while 48% reported site performance had suffered as the result of peak traffic loads.

Jupiter also found that 22% of site operators reported that their customer relationship management system-containing purchase history and other customer information-had gone down during business hours. 25% said that at times access to the site wasn’t available to web users in certain geographic areas. Overall, Lovett noted, 86% of those surveyed reported site performance problems of one kind or another.

Those issues are spurring interest among online marketers in adding or improving site performance monitoring. Lovett said Jupiter’s research shows that 50% of the site operators surveyed already use performance monitoring services and that 35% intend to implement it within the next six months.

While Gomez Inc. and Keynote Systems currently dominate the market in performance monitoring services, they don’t represent the only options open to retailers looking to boost or to keep a closer watch on site performance, Lovett says, noting that the monitoring services marketplace also includes smaller companies such as AlertSite and Empirix.

Content delivery networks such as Akamai Technologies Inc. can serve up dense content like images on an outsourced basis, doing some of the heavy lifting that can otherwise overtax a site’s own servers and affect site performance overall. Site operators also can shorten the path between finding a site performance problem and fixing it by using customer experience management services such as TeaLeaf Technology Inc., which drills down deep into the page in actual recorded user sessions to identify how and when errors occurred, Lovett said.

“There are a lot of things web site operators can do to keep their sites running,” he added.

Dalnes said marketers can make better use of site performance data if they learn some of the terms IT department staffers use to discuss performance issues.

“It’s no longer possible for business owners to ignore this language gap and expect that IT will take care of it,” he told attendees at the session. “Site performance data serves as a Rosetta Stone to facilitate communication between the business owners and their IT departments. Spend a little time learning the language. I encourage you to take some of this on yourself.”

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