April 17, 2013, 5:39 PM

Sears achieves lightning-fast speed after redesigning its m-commerce site

The department store retailer’s mobile home page loads in 1.74 seconds, Keynote says.

Lead Photo

The chain retailer's m-commerce site home page loaded completely and successfully 99.74% of the time.

Sears Holdings Corp. jumped from No. 11 to No. 1 on the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index, registering an astoundingly fast 1.74-second m-commerce site home page load time, mobile and web performance management firm Keynote says. It also boasts extremely high site availability, the home page loading completely and successfully 99.74% of the time, Keynote reports. Weighting and then combining load time and success rate earns Sears an index score of 974 out of 1,000 for the week ending April 14.

“There was a major site redesign completed on April 4 that helped Sears achieve these impressive numbers,” says Haroon Chohan, mobile and web performance expert at Keynote. “The major factor in the redesign is that the average bytes downloaded on the home page went from more than 100 kilobytes to just under 13 kilobytes. This was accomplished by using a very minimal home page design with just five objects loading on the page.”

The Sears mobile commerce site home page features the logo, account sign-in and shopping cart at the very top, followed by a site search box directly underneath. That is followed by a large box with six navigation bars for Deal of the Day, Browse, Find a Store, Local Ad & Deals, Gift Cards, and More. Underneath this box, which takes up most of the page, is a bar of buttons for About, Contact, Terms, Policy and Full Site.

“Another factor in Sears’ success is that two of the five page objects are images that use the base64/data URI scheme to convert them into base64 strings that are then encoded into the HTML or Cascading Style Sheets,” Chohan says.

Base64 is an encoding scheme that represents binary data in ASCII format. Data URI is a scheme of encoding data within a web page that make up page elements such as images 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. URI stands for universal resource identifier, a string of characters used to identify a web resource such as an image.

“One of the advantages of using the base64/data URI scheme is that it helps to reduce the number of HTTP requests made for images and style sheets,” Chohan says. “This is very beneficial for mobile sites given that HTTP requests over wireless networks can have higher latency issues. Reducing the overall number of HTTP requests made can greatly improve a site’s performance. Other retailers should take note of Sears’ redesign and impressive numbers. Barring any major issues, it may be a long time before anyone dethrones Sears from the No. 1 spot.”

Sears' goal for the m-commerce site is to deliver a quick, seamless, integrated retail experience for its Shop Your Way rewards members and other customers, says Imran Jooma, executive vice president and president of marketing, online and financial services at Sears Holdings.

"To that end, we recently evaluated and improved our software, reviewing all objects and connections on the site, and as a result obtained a substantial reduction in home page load time," Jooma says. "While I can’t give specifics on the improvements we made because they’re proprietary, I can say that we know our members want a simple and clean user experience. Overall, we took a fresh look at the mobile site, and further optimized it to better serve our members and customers. We redesigned the site with not only performance in mind–both page load and availability are critical metrics–but with our members' and customers’ integrated retail needs in mind as well. All aspects of the shopping experience have to work for them."

Barnes & Noble came in second on the index with a load time of 4.43 seconds and a success rate of 99.74% for a score of 897. W.W. Grainger Inc. came in third with a load time of 4.26 secnds and a success rate of 99.49% for a score of 848.

Sears is No. 29 in the Internet Retailer Mobile 400, BarnesandNoble.com Inc. is No. 31 and Grainger is No. 76.

The index average load time was 8.74 seconds, the average success rate was 99.33% and the average score was 687.

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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