March 20, 2014, 5:04 PM

Improving the performance of a responsive site boosts conversion rates on all devices

Yankee Retail, which operates Home-Decorating-Co.com, has had higher conversions and average order values on all smartphones, tablets and computers—including a 46.4% gain on tablets—since vendor Yottaa began whipped its responsive design web site into shape.

Lead Photo

A screenshot of Yankee Retail's web site on a tablet.

Home furnishings and décor merchant Yankee Retail, which operates Home-Decorating-Co.com, expected a specialist in web site performance could help it improve page load times and make it easier for customers navigate the retailer’s 17,000-piece catalog more quickly, says CEO Justin Potts. But he wasn’t expecting the improved performance to dramatically increase conversion rates and lift average order values across all devices by 5.7%—an outcome that is giving the retailer a 10- to 15-fold return on its investment in the services of performance optimization vendor Yottaa, he estimates.

Yankee Retail’s web site is built using responsive design. Specifically, the retailer uses the hybrid form of responsive design, where the merchant’s servers detect the type of device requesting a web page and then send only the web code and content designed to fit that device. This is in contrast to pure responsive, which collects all code and content for all versions of a site into one big package and sends that to a device, where the web browser unpackages what it needs to create an optimal site for that device.

Yottaa examined how the Yankee Retail was coded and delivered to consumers, and made several changes designed to improve performance. Within one month, the retailer’s conversion rates were up by 46.4% on tablets, 30.6% on desktop and 5.0% on smartphones, Potts says. Average order value was up by 2.5% on tablets, 6.2% on desktop and 19.9% on smartphones.

“We were kind of surprised that those results were as positive as they were,” Potts says. He adds he was especially surprised by the impact on mobile devices, which account for were less than a quarter of Yankee Retail’s site traffic. “But mobile does obviously impact our users’ engagement,” he says.

In fact, the changes made a bigger impact on the average visit duration from smartphones and tablets than from desktops. In one month after Yottaa optimized the site, customers were spending 21.3% more time per visit on smartphones, 11.2% more time on site on tablets and 9.5% more time on desktops. Additionally, Yankee Retail’s bounce rate—or the percentage of customers who visit only one page and then leave the site—decreased by 10.9% on smartphones, 9.9% on desktop and 1.0% on tablets. For smartphones in particular, that suggests that customers are doing more research on those devices though not necessarily buying much more than before, Potts says.

“It’s not surprising that mobile conversion increases at a higher rate than desktop when both are optimized,” says Yottaa CEO Coach Wei. “This is because the mobile user experience in general has tremendous room for improvement compared to desktop.”

Yottaa has made various changes to the e-retail site and the way it is served, Potts says. For example, Yottaa hosts a copy of Yankee Retail’s web site on its servers so it can manage how site changes are saved—or cached—on various servers and delivered to consumers’ devices, Potts says. The vendor coordinates saving and serving those web pages to consumers with the help of content delivery network Akamai Inc. Caching can help speed up page load times because elements already stored on a server need not reload from the original source every time a consumer calls the web page. For example, a social media widget from Facebook can be cached locally, so when the page containing it loads on a consumer’s device it loads the most recently called data rather than routing all the way back to Facebook’s servers to get it.

Yottaa also worked with Yankee Retail to strategize about how to update site elements or change the order in which they load to improve the site’s utility for consumers. For instance, the vendor pointed out to Yankee Retail that some of its pages contained three images that provided the same product data—which slowed down those pages’ loading times. Consolidating them into one solved the problem.

Potts says he also went through each element on each web page with Yottaa and came up with a new order for how they load. For example, they made sure the elements that are visible and most important to a shopper—like the product details and shopping cart—load on a page within the first second, while less critical elements—like social sharing buttons or extra images—load last. That helps cut down on customers’ frustrations as they browse and buy because the most relevant parts of the page appear quickly, even if some of the rest do not, Potts says.

Yankee Retail consults with Yottaa regularly on any site changes it makes, Potts says. The retailer pays around $1,500 to $2,000 per month for the vendor’s services. While the return on investment is already proven, Potts adds that hiring Yottaa also means his staff doesn’t have to keep up with the constantly changing technologies related to site performance optimization, he says. “This is a moving target—not ‘get it set up and leave it alone,’” he says. “It’s an evolving skill set.”

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