February 15, 2012, 4:33 PM

IRWD 2012: Balancing beauty and speed

Using images to sell products, Thymes.com ensures software code loads images quickly.

Lead Photo

Thymes' Matt Hoenck at IRWD 2012.

Thymes, a Minneapolis-based online beauty, bath and home fragrance retailer and distributor, relies heavily on beautiful images—such as an olive leaf imprinted on bar soap—to win over customers and grow sales. It’s a style presented throughout its e-commerce site, Thymes.com. “Above all, it’s the beauty of our design,” Matt Hoenck, director of information technology, said today at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference in Orlando, FL.

Thymes.com, however, didn’t always reflect that design with its images. And when Thymes planned a new site design with large, attractive ones, Hoenck was worried that the bigger images—many of them supported by snippets of software code that link them to the external web servers where they reside—would slow the site’s page-load time. “I had anxiety about how long it would take users to get through the shopping cart with the new design,” he said.

Hoenck, speaking in a session titled “Managing code snippets that do cool things—but could screw up your sales,” explained how Thymes successfully launched a new site design while learning how to closely monitor the various snippets of software code provided by outside content providers.

Working with Dotcom-Monitor Inc., whose technology helps retailers manage site performance by identifying elements that cause pages to load slowly, Thymes has been able to quickly fix problems, Hoenck said.

“I could see which piece of code was the slow-loading element,” Hoenck said. After Thymes contacted the vendor providing that software code, the vendor quickly provided additional capacity and resolved the issue within a few days, he said.

Online retailers need to realize that their e-commerce sites are ecosystems that have many aspects of software-driven content that must be carefully managed, said Brad Canham, vice president of business development at Dotcom-Monitor, who shared the session podium with Hoenck.

For example, links to Google Inc.’s Google+ social network don’t always show up on web sites when accessed by international users, Canham said. “If you’re marketing to international users and using Google+, it’s good to know if Google+ isn’t showing up for some international users,” he said.

In other cases, he added, images served up by content delivery networks may not always load properly, and the presentation of site security seals by companies like VeriSign Inc. and Like buttons for the Facebook social network may result in slower page loads because of problems with underlying software code.

And with web content constantly changing or being updated, he added, new issues may occur at any time. “A web site is a part of an ever-changing ecosystem,” Canham said.

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