August 20, 2010, 2:28 PM

The hard part of mobile site tracking

JavaScript challenges retailers when they measure mobile site performance.

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As m-commerce sites grow, some retailers are running into a roadblock. They can’t track how their mobile sites perform.

That’s because of the way most, if not all, analytics packages embed JavaScript calls on a web site, says Jordan Holberg, e-commerce manager at upscale apparel retailer Barneys New York. 

When a user visits a page, the JavaScript calls return information about that user's session to the analytic package's home server. That information includes pages viewed, cart data and search actions. The information varies by page type and request, Holberg says. Those packages are designed to be unobtrusive and as transparent as possible to the end user, so as not to interrupt their browsing session.

But many mobile devices do not play so well with JavaScript technology, Holberg says. “One of the biggest problems with mobile phones is their varying inabilities to run JavaScript,” he says. Because of this, Holberg spends a considerable amount of time analyzing error logs in his Demandware e-commerce plaftorm system to detect possible issues, such as problems with custom coding a programmer may have inserted and which can lead to error pages.

Help is on the way. One service Holberg has looked into is Google’s beta Analytics for Mobile package, which contains tracking code for mobile sites using several common programming languages. Google says the tool allows tracking of how mobile web sites perform on handsets that do not support JavaScript.

Web measurement and testing company Keynote Systems also offers a beta version of its mobile web site testing tool called Mobile Internet Testing Environment 2.0. The vendor plans to roll out the feature in the fall. Keynote says the program can test content with more than 1,600 mobile devices over a live wireless network, mobile carrier or Internet connection.

Regardless of whether a retailer can measure its mobile site speed, consumers expect mobile sites to be fast.

25% of mobile web users expect mobile sites, including m-commerce sites, to finish loading on their mobile phones almost as quickly as PC web sites do on a computer, according to a study of more than 1,000 mobile web users from web and mobile web measurement firm Gomez Inc. 21% expect them to load as quickly, and 12% expect them to load faster. 31% expect mobile sites to load a bit more slowly on their phones compared with PC web sites accessed via computer, and 11% expect the sites to load much more slowly on their phones.

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