August 27, 2013, 3:03 PM

Retailers can speed mobile page loads by streaming site content

A luxury retailer says it can offer a rich yet speedy mobile site.

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Many retailers rely on content delivery networks to quickly deliver web and mobile web content to consumers. These networks, also called CDNs, store web page content on servers located around the world, and thus can deliver content from servers geographically close to the consumer, speeding up page load times.

However, such systems don’t get around the fact that the consumer’s device must download each page element on a mobile or e-commerce site in order to access it. When it comes to mobile sites, in particular, downloading page elements such as images or text on smartphones can take several seconds. While retailers have a big opportunity to sell to consumers with smartphones, as more consumers own the web-connected devices, accessing mobile sites via wireless networks can many times take longer than a consumer has the patience for.

A service from vendor Instart Logic seeks to address that problem with what it calls intelligent streaming, enabling retailers to stream content to consumers accessing mobile and traditional sites without requiring them to download an entire element before using it. In simple terms, streaming allows consumers to access pieces of pages and elements and use them as they become available; downloading takes more time because it requires consumers to download the entire element to be able to use it. The service streams content hosted on the Internet to consumers much in the same way music providers Pandora and Rhapsody stream songs, allowing the listener to listen to the beginning of the song before the entire song has downloaded.

Called The Instart Logic Web Application Streaming Network, the service went live in the summer of 2012. Clients don’t need to change their code or install new software to use the product, the vendor says. Instead, operations teams redirect their Domain Name System, or DNS, settings to send traffic to the Instart Logic network, the vendor says. A DNS look-up links a web site’s alphabetical address, such as Retailer.com, to its lengthy numerical address, which web users never see.

One retailer using the service for its mobile and e-commerce sites is members-only luxury accessories retailer Bonfaire. “In luxury retail, the image quality is paramount and users will not wait,” says Keiron McCammon, CEO of Bonfaire. “For each product, we load five hero images, each as large as 1.5 megabytes on every single page, even for mobile devices. We chose consciously to shift the paradigm away from just having one large image on a page and alternate images that were tiny little thumbnails. We wanted to create a magazine page feel where we stacked several big hero images vertically and page transitions are almost instant—like flicking a page and thumb scrolling.”

This design vision leads to extremely large web and mobile web pages. McCammon knew loading these pages quickly would be a challenge, particularly for an audience accustomed to extremely fast sites. Half of the retailer’s 50,000 members access the mobile site. And they do so over wireless networks that potentially can be slow. McCammon  specifically wanted to speed up Bonfaire’s mobile site dramatically to maintain fast response times while serving several hero images per page. Bonfaire also planned to increase product offerings and release new products daily. McCammon knew this would generate big traffic spikes but he didn’t want to have to scale his servers up and down to accommodate traffic surges.

McCammon opted to test the Instart streaming service in 2012. He liked the fact that it did not require his programmers to change code, and didn’t require hardware or software installs. “We only had to change our DNS settings,” McCammon says. “It plugged in quickly and seamlessly to our infrastructure.”

He says that the Instart technology approach of cutting web assets into smaller pieces and streaming them in order of priority made sense for his company’s needs. “Instart Logic says, ‘I can break this one megabyte file and start streaming the bytes immediately to let your users interact faster and improve their experience,’” he says.

Speedier access to site elements has led to more page views and a better conversion rate for the retailer on both its mobile and e-commerce sites. Specifically, McCammon says the streaming service helped Bonfaire reduce by nearly 200% the time between a consumer’s first tap or click to access the mobile or e-commerce site and their first interaction, such as tapping on a product image for more information.

“Users are getting much more immediate access to the product and that really draws people in and keeps them clicking,” McCammon says. Wireless users, says McCammon, have not complained about web performance despite Bonfaire maintaining an image-heavy mobile site. McCammon adds that despite his company growing its members from 2,000 to more than 50,000 in less than a year, his company has not needed to add servers or server capacity. “We launch five to six new collections weekly,” he says. “Instart Logic reliably lets us manage resulting traffic peaks without adding scale to our infrastructure.”

Instart says the pricing for its streaming service varies based on the amount of traffic to a retailer’s e-commerce and m-commerce sites, and that the fees are similar to those of content delivery networks. James Fletcher, director of marketing and sales for CDN.net, says his company provides its content delivery services on a month-to-month basis and does not require a long-term contract. A typical price range for clients serving up web pages  across North America runs about $18.50 per terabyte, though some clients pay a flat monthly fee of about $50, he says. There are no set-up fees.

 

 

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