January 9, 2013, 4:40 PM

The Sports Authority fumbles mobile site performance

A considerably heavier and more complex home page does not load quickly.

Lead Photo

The retailer's m-commere site home page takes nearly 15 seconds to load. Keynote Systems describes that level of performance as "unacceptable."

The Sports Authority Inc.’s mobile commerce site home page average load time increased by a significant 3.62 seconds for the week ending Jan. 6, according to the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index. The home page loaded on average in 14.43 seconds and did so completely and successfully 99.55% of the time, reports mobile and web performance management firm Keynote Systems Inc. For the week ending Dec. 30, Sports Authority’s load time was 10.81 seconds and its success rate was 99.00%.

“When we drilled down to see what changed, we saw the total number of home page objects almost doubled from 16 to 30, mobile home page size went up from 85 kilobytes to 185 kilobytes, and the total number of web domains required to fetch content from other sources or servers shot up to 13 from seven,” says Venkatesh Giri, mobile performance expert at Keynote Systems. “Customers have to wait almost 15 seconds for Sports Authority’s home page to load completely. This is simply unacceptable performance and will drive down customer retention.”

Sports Authority last week was busy at work with Google Inc. and Akamai Technologies Inc., making changes that affected performance, Keynote Systems says.

“We see a number of new things added, including Google ad services, Google AdWords conversion tracking, Google Search application program interface, and the Google loader that helps in loading multiple APIs from Google,” Giri says. “Further, Sports Authority uses Amazon’s CloudFront as their content delivery network that makes it easy to distribute content with low latency via a global network of locations. But this week we saw two objects being served from Akamai’s content delivery network, which suggests the retailer might be evaluating another vendor to deliver their content quickly.”

And all of the retailer’s mobile site icon images are served from image hosting service Dropbox, which results in six extra HTTP server connections as no image optimization techniques, such as CSS sprites, are being used, Giri adds. A CSS sprite is a web programming technique that enables multiple images to be saved as one, thus reducing the number of web server calls required.

Sports Authority, No. 161 in the Internet Retailer Mobile 400, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“To improve its mobile web performance, Sports Authority must reduce the number of objects by implementing performance optimization techniques like minifying CSS and JavaScripts,” Giri says. Minifying is the combination of multiple scripts into one script or multiple CSS files into one file, thus reducing the number of files required to build a page, shaving off time from the total page load time.

“The retailer should also consider implementing data compression techniques across their site where applicable to reduce the number of bytes sent over the wire,” Giri says. “These techniques will reduce DNS lookups.” Domain Name System, or DNS, is akin to a phone book for the Internet. A DNS lookup matches a name with the long and required page number that a web user never sees.

“The retailer now fetches content from 13 unique host names, which adds 50 to 120 milliseconds time for DNS lookups for each of the 13 unique domains. This includes the host names used in the page’s URL, images, script files, style sheets, and more,” Giri says. A host name is a label that is assigned to a machine connected to a computer network; it is used to identify the machine in various forms of electronic communication, such as the web and e-mail.

“Reducing the number of unique host names reduces the number of DNS lookups. Avoiding DNS lookups cuts response time,” Giri explains. “By implementing such performance optimization techniques and mobile web best practices, Sports Authority can absolutely achieve much faster page load times.”

Office Depot Inc. topped the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ending Jan. 6. Its load time was 3.24 seconds and its success rate was 99.78%. The weighted and combined load time and success rate earned Office Depot an index score of 973 out of 1,000. Amazon.com Inc. came in second with a load time of 6.73 seconds and a success rate of 99.77% for a score of 897. And Barnes & Noble came in third with a load time of 5.11 seconds and a success rate of 99.56% for a score of 885.

Office Depot is No. 65 in the Internet Retailer Mobile 400. Amazon.com is No. 1 and BarnesandNoble.com Inc. is No. 31.

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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