May 29, 2014, 12:58 PM

Exclusive: If Rakuten could just shed a few pounds…

Rakuten.com Shopping trimmed the load time for its m-commerce site home page by 260 milliseconds to 8.27 seconds last week, according to the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index. If it could just get the page’s weight down from 490 to around 200 kilobytes, it could shoot to the top of the index, Keynote says.

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The e-retailer's mobile commerce web site home page loads in 8.27 seconds, Keynote finds.

The mobile commerce web site home page of e-retailer Rakuten.com Shopping takes 8.27 seconds to load, according to the Internet Retailer-exclusive Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ending May 25. That’s 260 milliseconds quicker than the week prior. But it’s not quick enough to be considered good.

Keynote tests the 30 retailers on the index (28 standalone m-commerce sites for smartphones and two responsive design sites on smartphones) on a blend of 3G, 4G and 4G LTE networks.  Based on that blend, a good average load time would be 4.5 seconds, though an optimal load time would be lower, Keynote says. So 8.27 seconds doesn’t cut it.

What Rakuten.com Shopping needs to do is shed some weight: Given this blend of network speeds, which reflects the blend among U.S. consumers, retailers should aim for mobile pages with no more than 20 page elements (such as images or scripts) weighing no more than 200 kilobytes, Keynote says. Rakuten.com Shopping’s mobile home page contains 62 page elements weighing 490 kilobytes.

“Rakuten.com’s mobile home page currently has huge banners and plenty of images: One particular banner with a promo code for pet supplies weighs 173 kilobytes,” says Krishna Reddy, mobile performance evangelist at mobile and web performance monitoring, testing and analytics firm Keynote. “Banners and images might have a huge impact on visitors as they immediately grab their attention, but this shouldn’t come at the cost of losing shoppers due to slower page load times. Images and banners should always be optimized. Using newer and better image formats like WebP or PNG instead of JPEG can help reduce the size of the images.”

However, retailers in mobile commerce have to balance performance, which includes load times and site availability, with experience. Shoppers on mobile sites still need features and functions that will help them make a buying decision, m-commerce experts say. So it may be that Rakuten.com Shopping has decided a mobile site with page load speeds slower than ideal is worth it to present a rich assortment of features and functions. The e-retailer did not reply to a request for comment.

Rakuten.com Shopping placed No. 6 on the Keynote index; its success rate, also known as site availability, is a stellar 99.91%. Keynote weights and combines load time and success rate to reach a score. Rakuten’s score is 862 out of 1,000. The average load time for all 30 retailers on the index is 10.45 seconds, the average success rate is 98.43%, and the average score is 744. The average page element count is 41 and the average mobile home page weight is 425 kilobytes.

Sears Holdings Corp. topped the index with a load time of 2.12 seconds and a success rate of 99.8% for a score of 998. Its home page contains seven elements and weighs 50 kilobytes. Toolfetch.com LLC came in second with a load time of 3.83 seconds and a success rate of 99.91% for a score of 969. Its mobile home page contains nine elements weighing 76 kilobytes. And W.W. Grainger Inc. came in third with a load time of 3.83 seconds and a success rate of 99.71% for a score of 956.

Keynote suggests different performance recommendations and goals for mobile sites on smartphones and responsive design sites on smartphones based on network connection speed: on 4G LTE connections, a 2-second load time with 50-element and 500-kilobyte maximums; on 4G, a 3-second load time with 30-element and 300-kilobyte maximums; and on 3G, a 6-second load time with 10-element and 100-kilobyte maximums.

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 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.

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. To consistently rank high on the Keynote index, sites must hit availability targets of 99.5% or better and be faster than 10 seconds to load on average. Top-performing sites load in under five seconds.

Today, 20% of U.S. Internet-enabled mobile phone users have 4G or 4G LTE wireless data connections, 71% have 3G, and 9% have 2G, according to research firm Informa Telecoms & Media. And according to research and consulting firm Deloitte, 63% of U.S. smartphone users most often connect to the web on their devices on a Wi-Fi network.

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