July 3, 2014, 10:49 AM

How CVS gets away with a slow-loading mobile site

Although the total loading time for a page on CVS’ mobile is slow, the site loads elements in such a way that it doesn’t seem slow to the consumer.

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Based on the numbers, CVS Caremark Corp.’s mobile site is too slow. The site loads completely in 9.24 seconds, which is more than 7 seconds slower than the mobile site from Sears Holdings Corp., the current leader on the Internet Retailer-exclusive Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ending June 29.

But that does not detract from the experience, says Keynote mobile evangelist Ken Harker. The trick, Harker says, is that some of the larger images are not displayed when the page initially loads but are only displayed after the consumer interacts with the page. For example, each menu dropdown displays images, but they are only visible after the consumer clicks on that menu. The site loads those images after loading images that are immediately visible.

“The key to a responsive-feeling web site is to ensure that content not immediately displayed on the page is requested only after the more critical elements,” says Harker. “CVS does a good job of this, loading larger image files that are only displayed after an intentional pause after all other image content on the page.”

Keynote tests weekly 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.

CVS improved its load speeds from previous weeks, Harker says, and that resulted in the retailer moving up from No. 10 to No. 8 in the weekly index. CVS’ mobile site home page has 30 page elements and weighs 373 KB, which is slightly above the Keynote recommendation of 200 KB.

CVS declined to comment for this story.

Sears, which has held the No. 1 spot for several weeks, only uses seven page elements on its home page, which loads in just 1.95 seconds. The average for the 30 retailers in the index is 10.87 seconds. The slowest home page to load belongs to Fathead.com, which uses responsive design to tailor the presentation to the device the consumer is using. That site loads in 23.75 seconds.

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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