March 26, 2013, 4:14 PM

E-commerce sites need to pick up the pace

Load times for retail web sites slow by 22%, according to a new study.

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An analysis of 2,000 e-retail sites shows that home page load times slowed by 22% from December 2011 to December 2012.

The research, from vendor Radware, which recently bought Strangeloop Networks Inc., a company that helps e-retailers and other web site operators improve the performance of their sites, tested page load times for the 2,000 retail web sites with the most traffic as ranked by web analytics vendor Alexa Internet Inc., a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc., over a two-week period in December using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9, Mozilla’s Firefox 17 and Google Inc.’s Chrome 23 on a DSL connection.

The median load time of the retail sites examined was 7.25 seconds, more than double what Radware says is a typical web visitor’s tolerance of three seconds and 22% slower than December 2011’s median of 5.94 seconds. Additionally, the largest e-commerce sites on the list had a median load time of 8.23 seconds, 14% slower than the median load time for all the sites.

Radware says that the overall slowdown in load times may stem from an increase in the amount of HTTP server requests to load individual web pages. To fully load a page, a web site must call a server for elements such as images, videos or site search boxes. As web sites have become more complex and sophisticated, such requests increased by 8.22% from December 2011 to December 2012, in many cases slowing the time it takes to load a site, Radware says.

The best-performing web browser in terms of speed was Firefox, which posted a median load time that was faster than both Internet Explorer and Chrome. The median load time for the sites on Firefox was 6.64 seconds; on Chrome, 7.09 seconds, and on Internet Explorer 9, 7.25 seconds.

The research also suggests that many of the sites can take steps to speed load times. For example, only 25% of the 2,000 retailers use a content delivery network. Such networks store web page content on servers located around the world, and thus can deliver content from servers geographically close to the consumer, helping web pages load quicker. Additionally, 22% of the retail sites fail to compress their pages. Similar to a zipped file, compressing page elements reduces the amount of data sent over networks and therefore can help speed up page load times.

“The fact that the median site has slowed down by 22% in just one year should be alarming for retail site owners,” says Joshua Bixby, vice president of application acceleration at Radware. “This is a massive drop in performance. As pages continue to grow bigger and more complex, site owners need to take aggressive steps to mitigate this growth.”

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