June 29, 2011, 4:27 PM

Best be slim and trim to combat unpredictable carriers

What to do when there’s nothing you can do.

Lead Photo

The retailer maintains a colorful, well-designed home page and still does well on the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index.

I was chatting yesterday with Herman Ng over at mobile and web performance management firm Keynote Systems Inc. That’s the firm behind our weekly Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index. He keeps a sharp eye on the data every week and looks for bright spots, problems and trends. Well, this week he noticed a problematic trend.

The average time it takes to download the m-commerce site home page of the 30 retailers on the index increased from 8.81 seconds four weeks ago to 9.65 seconds last week. The cause? Degrading performance on the four major wireless carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. This has nothing to do with the performance of the retailers’ sites; rather, this has everything to do with the quality of the wireless network performance. So I asked Herman what can a retailer do about this? The answer, I’m afraid, is nothing. It’s up to the carriers to ensure their networks perform at optimal speeds, and it’s up to the carriers to invest more in their networks to ensure a high level of consistent performance.

With no options, what a retailer can do is make sure to keep mobile commerce sites slim and trim, to keep the kilobyte weight of pages and the number of objects on a page down. The lighter the page, the quicker it will load. That way, when a wireless network is running slow, it will minimize the overall time it will take for a consumer to see your mobile page. A heavy page can push your site into the impatient zone, where mobile consumers—who like things fast and efficient—will abandon you entirely.

This is not to say you can’t have great design tools like revolving carousels of product images on a page, or rotating hero shots. You just have to pick and choose so that the total weight of any given page isn’t too much. By all means use great design features on a page, but make sure the rest of the page doesn’t add up to trouble. And of course, always employ tricks of the trade like optimizing images for the mobile screen so they are not the huge versions being used for the e-commerce site but rather smaller versions that rack up fewer kilobytes.

Carriers are pouring more money into their wireless networks, and in general people have good experiences. These last four weeks on the Keynote index could be a blip, as Herman points out. But one way or another, they show that retailers have to be as good as they can be on their side of the coin once they hand over their mobile web pages to the wireless networks. Thin is in.

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