December 2, 2004, 12:00 AM

Retailers want faster sites this holiday season

Online retailers who were satisfied a year ago with downloads of 5 seconds to 8 seconds now want 2 seconds to 3 seconds and the ability to handle more concurrent customers.

Online retailers are demanding quicker downloads and the capacity for more concurrent shoppers on their web sites, says Tim Drees, CEO of San Diego-based analytics and performance testing company Webmetrics. “In the past six months we’ve seen an increased focus on performance in general,” he says.

Companies that found download times of 5 to 8 seconds acceptable last holiday season now want to complete the process in 2 to 3 seconds, Drees says, adding that “there are people out there achieving it.”

The wait becomes frustrating for most Internet users after about 4 seconds, says Mark Ehr, research director for Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo. Patience is waning as more shoppers become accustomed to quicker broadband connections, he adds.

Web merchants also want to accommodate more shoppers simultaneously on their sites, Drees says, noting that big retailers who were satisfied a year ago with handling 1,000 customers at the same time now want the ability to accommodate 5,000.

The capacity to handle more shoppers makes sense because retailers don’t want to lose customers before they hit the buy button, says Ehr

Retailers no longer seem to feel that customers will lower their expectations for the speed of a site because of the increased holiday volume, Drees says.

“A year or two ago when we were doing load testing, people would say, ‘If I have 5,000 shoppers and everybody has to wait 10 or 15 seconds to load a page that would be OK because it’s a peak time.’ Now, that’s not OK. There’s a renewed focus on the end-user experience,” Drees says.

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