April 27, 2011, 12:16 PM

Walgreens tops rival CVS on weekly m-commerce site performance index

Other retailers can learn from the techniques Walgreens uses to excel.

Lead Photo

Walgreens earned the top spot on this week’s index with a load time of 5.33 seconds and a success rate of 98.16%.

Drugstore chain Walgreen Co. has been No. 1 or No. 2 on the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index since Keynote doubled the size of the index to 30 merchants three weeks ago. It has had exceptional load time (the amount of time it takes to download an m-commerce site home page from a server to a smartphone) and a steady success rate (the percentage of the time the home page downloads successfully).

For the last two weeks, Walgreens has ranked on the index eight positions above its main rival, CVS Caremark Corp. To understand why, mobile and web performance management firm Keynote Systems Inc. dove into the data.

“We found the competitors’ page load times are comparable over three of the four devices and carriers used in the tests,” says Herman Ng, mobile performance evangelist at Keynote Systems. “However, the Walgreens page is on average five to six seconds faster than CVS when using the Blackberry Curve 8900 over T-Mobile. Both sites have been optimized for feature phone devices such as the Blackberry Curve and use a smaller number of page objects for sites for these phones compared to the retailers’ smartphone sites. But Walgreens achieves much faster page load times by having only one base page URL redirection, while CVS has three. And because URL redirections must occur sequentially, this significantly increases the latency to load CVS’s mobile site.”

A base page URL redirection occurs when a consumer on a smartphone or feature phone types in the standard URL for a site, such as Walgreens.com, and the site automatically takes the consumer to a mobile-optimized site instead of the standard e-commerce site. Some retailers may include more than one redirect because they first point to another URL that then points to a host file that contains the data to build the mobile web site. Ng says this is unnecessary as well as easy to overlook; mobile sites often are initially built with the host file set-up and if speed during testing is satisfactory, merchants may not take out the additional redirects.

A feature phone is the predecessor to the smartphone; it can access the web, but without the added features and functions of a smartphone, such as a more robust web browser. An object is an item on a page such as an image or text box.

In addition to better optimization for features phones and only one page redirection, Walgreens excels by keeping things simple, Ng says.

“Walgreens’ mobile site is nearly five times lighter in page weight compared to the CVS mobile site,” he explains. “CVS’ average image size on their feature phone site is over 11 kilobytes, while Walgreens’ is only 1.2 kilobytes. Other retailers should learn and employ the techniques used by Walgreens to improve their mobile download speed.”

Walgreens says mobile customers expect a fast experience, and their expectations are growing.

“We achieve quicker response times by measuring our performance continuously and limiting the steps to accomplish their tasks,” says Abhi Dhar, Walgreens.com chief technology officer. “We also ensure that we design and optimize everything for mobile. The Walgreens mobile app is designed to help our customers get things done more easily, just like all the other digital experiences we are creating. Mobile is a key channel in our multichannel strategy.”

CVS did not respond to a call for comment.

Walgreens earned the top spot on this week’s index with a load time of 5.33 seconds and a success rate of 98.16% for a score of 980 out of 1,000. CVS came in at No. 9 with a load time of 6.15 seconds and success rate of 97.73% for a score of 892. Click here and then click on Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index Part 1 and Part 2 to see this week’s complete results for all 30 retailers on the index.

Keynote Systems measures 30 representative m-commerce sites exclusively for Internet Retailer. The sites include merchants in various categories and channels, and of various sizes, ranging from such giants as Amazon.com Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. and 1-800-Flowers.com Inc., to midsized retailers like Sunglass Hut, Toolfetch.com LLC and K&L Wine Merchants. Keynote tests the sites in the index every hour Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. through midnight Eastern time, emulating four different smartphones on four different wireless networks: Apple Inc.’s iPhone 4 on AT&T, the HTC Evo on Sprint, the BlackBerry Curve on T-Mobile and the Droid X on Verizon. The HTC Evo and the Droid X run Google Inc.’s Android operating system.

Keynote combines a site’s load time and success rate, equally weighted, into a single score. Given both performance and availability are important, the score reflects the overall quality of the home page; a higher score indicates better performance. Scores also reflect how close sites are to each other in overall quality. The index average score is the midpoint among all the sites’ scores.

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