July 17, 2014, 1:45 PM

Barnes & Noble’s mobile commerce site breaks the rules—but still succeeds

Despite a slow load time, heavy page weight and excess of page elements, the high success rate of its mobile commerce site redeems the booksellers’ rebellious ways.

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The mobile commerce home page of bookseller Barnes & Noble, No. 41 in the Internet Retailer Mobile 500 fails to adhere to any of the best practices recommended by Keynote in terms of performance and general page construction. “The Barnes & Noble mobile home page is more than twice as slow as any of the other top five sites, as well as more than double the amount of content and is much larger in size,” says Matthew Agnoli, mobile web performance evangelist at Keynote.

Despite that, the site ranks No. 5 on the Internet Retailer-exclusive Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ending July 13. Agnoli says the site’s saving grace is its high success rate: 99.35% for the week. The average success rate for the index this week is 97.96.

But that might not be enough to preserve its top five position if other sites improve upon their own success rates. “A site needs to be both reliable and fast to ensure high customer satisfaction and to keep customers returning,” Agnoli says.

One of the ways to do that, Agnoli says, is to limit the number of HTTP requests a browser has to make to a server to load the page. This is where the Barnes & Noble’s mobile home page could use the most improvement, he says. The page sends over 40 requests, 10 more than Keynote recommends for mobile sites.

“The Barnes & Noble site would likely see some significant performance improvements by combining these files and loading JavaScript files not critical to the page render below core image content,” Agnoli says. “These changes would likely keep Barnes & Noble in the top five of the index and possibly move them even higher.”

Barnes and Noble did not respond to a request to comment on its mobile site performance.

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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