May 22, 2014, 3:39 PM

Consumers shift to faster wireless—and set the performance bar higher

Retailers benefit when consumers upgrade to faster wireless networks, such as 4G LTE, that greatly increase page load speeds—but high speeds also set the bar higher for mobile commerce site performance, Keynote says. The firm has made some speed adjustments to its weekly m-commerce index, exclusive to Internet Retailer.

Lead Photo

The chain retailer's m-commerce site home page loads on average in 2.20 seconds, Keynote says.

Internet Retailer has exclusively published the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for many years, making adjustments along the way to reflect the ever-changing face of mobility. The most important changes have always centered on wireless network speed. Beginning with the index for the week ending May 18, 2014, mobile and web performance testing, monitoring and analytics firm Keynote increased the speed with which it tests the 30 representative mobile commerce web sites on the index.

Prior to last week, sites were monitored on a blend of 3G (50%) and 4G (50%) networks. Now, Keynote uses a blend of 3G (50%), 4G (17%) and super-fast 4G LTE (33%) networks. Keynote says 4G LTE could trim a full second off of a fast-performing site’s load time on 4G.

More specifically, Keynote conducted a test of two mobile commerce sites for smartphones and two responsive design sites on smartphones from the weekly Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index to show how much 4G LTE speeds up performance. Following are the retailers, the type of site, the 3G/4G home page response time (end-to-end page load time), and the home page response time solely on 4G LTE, as recently measured by Keynote:

  • Fab.com, responsive design, 17.58 seconds, 6.70 seconds.
  • Fathead LLC, responsive design, 16.75 seconds, 6.69 seconds.
  • Toolfetch.com LLC, standalone m-commerce site, 2.11 seconds, 0.81 seconds.
  • W.W. Grainger Inc., standalone m-commerce site, 2.65 seconds, 1.02 seconds.

4G LTE clearly is where mobility is headed, Keynote says, which is why Keynote changed the speed mix to 3G/4G/4G LTE. Today, 20% of U.S. Internet-enabled mobile phone users have 4G or the faster 4G LTE wireless data connections, while 71% have 3G and 9% have 2G, according to research firm Informa Telecoms & Media.

4G LTE brings a sea change to mobile performance: Because 4G LTE speeds approach Wi-Fi and landline speeds, for the first time mobile consumers can now have the same performance expectations of mobile sites as they do of desktop sites—page loads of two seconds or less, says Ken Harker, a senior analyst and mobile performance expert at Keynote.

“It’s entirely reasonable for customers to expect a retailer to aim for two seconds or faster on 4G LTE, the same recommendation we make for desktop page loads,” Harker says. “Two seconds is not practical on 3G, where a site would have to be bare-bones to reach that speed. That’s why Keynote has recommended 6-second page loads on 3G and 3-second loads on 4G. Customers have made accommodations for pages on smartphones because of slower wireless speeds. But 4G LTE customers will no longer be making any accommodations for performance, they will expect mobile page loads as fast as desktop page loads.”

This does not mean retailers can simply design a page for desktop and expect it to perform well on the very fast 4G LTE—retailers still must optimize pages for smartphones, Harker says. For example, he adds, a page for desktops weighing 600 kilobytes should be honed to 300 kilobytes for smartphones. “4G LTE is still wireless, and you just cannot load as many bytes over wireless networks as you can on landlines and expect the same responsiveness,” he says.

With the new 3G/4G/4G LTE blend for the weekly Keynote index, Harker says a good average load time would be 4.5 seconds or better. The average response time for all 30 retailers for the week ending May 18, however, was 10.65 seconds. What’s more, Harker says retailers should aim for better-than-average performance, and that Keynote urges its retailer clients to aim for the upper quartile of high performers.

“The top three sites on this week’s index are hitting the target,” he says. The top three sites belong to Sears Holdings Corp. (2.20 seconds), Grainger (3.09 seconds) and Toolfetch.com (3.87 seconds).

The index includes two retailers with responsive design sites: Fathead and Fab.com. Even with the new faster testing speeds, these two sites still perform poorly, Fathead with a 26.73-second response time and Fab.com with a 28.82-second response time. Slow performance is the No. 1 complaint among responsive design critics, and Keynote shows that complaint to be valid (the June 2014 cover story of Internet Retailer magazine will present exclusive, in-depth research on this subject).

“Fathead is loading 1.99 megabytes of data and Fab.com is loading 2.24 megabytes of data, far over even Keynote’s highest recommendation, 500 kilobytes over 3G connections,” Harker says. “These retailers may be gambling on the fact that a lot of people browse the web on their smartphones on super-fast Wi-Fi connections. On Wi-Fi, those same pages might not be so terrible. But the retailers would be writing off customers on 3G connections, because their sites on 3G are untenable. On desktops, some time ago, retailers began to write off the dial-up web access crowd. Maybe some retailers today have determined 3G is not worth it anymore.”

To see complete results (including response time, site availability, page weight in kilobytes, total page elements, and index score) for all 30 retailers on the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index, click here.

Keynote measures, exclusively for Internet Retailer, 28 standalone m-commerce sites optimized for smartphones and two responsive design sites, which are single sites that render content in ways that fit the screen size of a device, including desktop PCs, tablets, smartphones and smart TVs. For the index, Keynote measures the smartphone versions of the responsive sites.

The 30 representative sites include merchants in multiple categories and channels, and of multiple sizes, ranging from such giants as Amazon.com Inc. to mid-sized retailers like Toolfetch.com LLC. Keynote tests the sites in the index every hour Monday through Sunday from 8:00 a.m. through midnight EDT, emulating the Apple iPhone 5 smartphone on two different wireless networks: AT&T and Sprint, both using 3G, 4G and 4G LTE networks. Keynote runs the tests in Dallas, New York and San Francisco.

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