September 12, 2012, 11:53 AM

Grainger performs even more site optimization and shoots up m-commerce index

Keynote Systems reveals the tools and supplies retailer’s mobile performance secrets.

Lead Photo

The merchant's m-commerce site home page loads on average in 5.07 seconds.

On last week’s Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index, W.W. Grainger Inc. cut its m-commerce site home page load time in half, from 9.80 seconds for the week ended Aug. 26 to 4.94 seconds for the week ended Sept. 2. But a page error badly hurt site availability, also known as the success rate, and that kept the tools and supplies retailer near the bottom of the index—No. 28 out of 30, to be precise.

Since then, there have been no page errors and Grainger has done even more site optimization, so that for the week ended Sept. 9, the merchant shot up 19 spots to No. 9. Its m-commerce site home page loads on average in 5.07 seconds and does so completely and successfully 99.23% of the time. When the load time and success rate figures are weighted and combined, Grainger earns an index score of 900 out of 1,000.

Grainger has made changes to its mobile commerce site on top of the ones it made two weeks ago, says Venkatesh Giri, mobile performance evangelist at Keynote Systems Inc.

“A number of JavaScripts and CSS files have been combined and embedded into the home page HTML, site icons use data URI schemes to reduce the number of HTTP requests, and the site layout images are combined into a sprite image which is encoded directly into the home page HTML,” Giri explains. “The combination of two optimization techniques—data URI and CSS sprites—for their site images not only minimizes the number of images required to download, but also saves an extra HTTP request required to fetch the sprite image.”

A sprite is a programming tool that enables a developer to package multiple images in one file, which thus requires only one server request, not a request for each image. URI stands for universal resource identifier, a string of characters used to identify a web resource such as an image. Data URI is a scheme of encoding data within a web page that make up page elements such as images or Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, a mark-up language used to define pages and denote where elements appear on a page. With multiple elements encoded within a page, no extra HTTP server request is made to fetch the embedded elements as opposed to a request for each element.

“Finally,” Giri notes, “the home page HTML and other elements are compressed in gzip to reduce the overall size of the objects sent over the network. All these powerful techniques combine to help Grainger deliver a fast, functional and clean mobile-optimized site.” Gzip is a software application used for compressing data files.

“Our customers work away from their desks about 50% of the time and want access to Grainger wherever they are working,” says Dan Grimm, director, mobile applications, at W.W. Grainger. “Over the past year, mobile traffic to Grainger’s site has increased 400 percent. We continuously work to improve the overall customer experience with a laser focus on performance. One of the most important aspects of the mobile experience is speed, because customers expect a great experience whether they are visiting Grainger.com from their desktop computer or from their smartphone.”

The number of HTTP requests between smartphones and servers has an enormous impact on site performance, Grimm adds. By using data URIs and sprites we are able to reduce the number of HTTP requests and free up connections for other requests the page might have to make,” he says.

Toolfetch.com LLC topped the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ended Sept. 9. Its m-commerce site home page loaded on average in a swift 2.68 seconds and did so completely and successfully 99.24% of the time, earning it an index score of 988. Office Depot Inc. came in second with a load time of 3.01 seconds and a success rate of 99.78% for a score of 986. And Buy.com came in third with a load time of 3.49 seconds and a success rate of 99.78% for a score of 968.

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 multiple categories and channels, and of multiple sizes, ranging from such giants as Amazon.com Inc. to midsized retailers like Toolfetch.com LLC. Keynote tests the sites in the index every hour Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. through midnight Eastern time, emulating three different smartphones on three different wireless networks: Apple Inc.’s iPhone 4 on AT&T, the HTC Evo on Sprint and the Droid X on Verizon. The HTC Evo and the Droid X run Google Inc.’s Android operating system. Keynote runs the tests in New York and San Francisco.

Keynote combines a site’s load time and success rate, equally weighted, into a single score. Given that 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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