February 21, 2013, 5:09 PM

Abe Lincoln slows mobile page loads at Sears

A Presidents Day banner adds a second to page load time at Sears, Keynote says.

Lead Photo

This ad for a Presidents Day sale added an extra second onto the page load time of the department store's m-commerce site home page, Keynote says.

Sears Holdings Corp. fared well on the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ending Feb. 17, though a design change on Feb. 16 slowed the retailer’s performance. Sears shot up 12 positions to No. 9 among the 30 retailers in the index. Its mobile commerce site home page loaded on average in 4.83 seconds and did so completely and successfully 99.02% of the time, according to mobile and web performance management firm Keynote. Weighting and combining load time and success rate earned Sears an index score of 752 out of 1,000.

The department store recovered from the week ending Feb. 10, when its m-commerce site experienced some random errors on the AT&T and Verizon wireless networks, says Joe Flake, web and mobile performance expert at Keynote. The random errors included TCP connection errors, where Keynote couldn’t open the connection port to talk to the Sears web server, and request time out errors, where Keynote got the connection open, asked for the page, but never got a response. For that week, the Sears m-commerce site home page loaded on average in 4.49 seconds, but the errors ate away at the success rate, which ended up at only 97.84%, Keynote says.

After bouncing back from the previous week, on Feb. 16 Sears added a Presidents Day sale banner to the m-commerce site home page, and that slowed page loading for the last two days of the week ending Feb. 17, Keynote says.

“Sears introduced a JPG image element, adding a banner for a Presidents Day sale, a perfectly reasonable thing for a retail site to do—but it’s important to keep in mind that each element added to small mobile page can make a significant change in download time,” Flake says. “In this case, the single image added about a second to page load times.”

Three factors contributed to this page load increase, Flake says. First, the home page went from 10 to 11 page elements, such as images or boxes of text, and each additional server request for an element means more time needed to build the page, Flake says. Second, the JPG image was hosted from a web domain different from the rest of the site—each additional domain means more time making connections, he explains. And third, at 100 kilobytes, the image was considerably larger than would be expected for a mobile page because larger elements take longer to download, he says.

Sears stresses the importance of the Presidents Day sale but declines to comment directly on the additional second of load time and weighing web site content versus performance.

“The banner alerted our customers and Shop Your Way members to a significant savings event—timely and valuable information for them to have, especially around a traditionally big retail sale holiday like Presidents Day,” says Imran Jooma, executive vice president and president of marketing, online and financial services, at Sears Holdings. Shop Your Way is Sears’ loyalty program. “We’re category leaders because we understand that optimizing speed and convenience is paramount in the world of mobile commerce.”

Sears is constantly monitoring m-commerce site performance because mobile is a key part of the company’s strategy as it evolves into a retailer with highly integrated sales channels, Jooma adds.

Toolfetch.com LLC topped the Keynote index for the week ending Feb. 17. Its load time was a mere 2.9 seconds and its success rate was 99.78%, earning it a score of 954. Amazon.com Inc. came in second with a load time of 6.22 seconds and a success rate of a perfect and rare 100% for a score of 928. And Barnes & Noble came in third with a load time of 4.81 seconds and a success rate of 99.68% for a score of 890.

Sears is No. 29 in the Internet Retailer Mobile 400. Toolfetch.com is No. 248, 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.

Keynote is ranked No. 2 among web performance monitoring firms in Internet Retailer’s Leading Vendors to the Top 1000 E-retailers guide.

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