February 28, 2007, 12:00 AM

Improving performance

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Despite their large information technology and web programming resources, chain retailers suffered the most frequent site crashes lasting more than 15 minutes, according to the survey. 17.6% of chains participating in the survey report having an outage of one quarter of an hour or more in the last 30 days and 25.7% within the past three months. Virtual merchants were the most consistent web site operators, with only 6.6% reporting an outage of 15 minutes or more in the last month and 26% during the last 3 months. In comparison, 7.9% and 28.9% of catalogers had recent site crashes in the last month and 90 days, respectively, while 8.4% of manufacturers suffered major outages in January and 12.5% within the past three months. Interestingly, 25.7% of chain retailers report no outages of over 15 minutes in more than one year, compared with 23.7% of catalogers, 27.3% of virtual merchants and 8.3% of manufacturers.

Broader monitoring

In the early days of web performance monitoring, retailing companies and their information technology and web programming departments looked strictly at traffic volume within the firewall to identify and solve traffic problems. But now more retailers are broadening their monitoring criteria in a greater effort to see and prevent performance problems. For instance, 66.5% of retailers taking part in the research have real-time programs for monitoring site responsiveness and reliability. But 46.4% and 25.9% also have real-time programs that monitor load capacity and content validity, respectively, while 30.8% troubleshoot application behavior. “The world of web retailing is now in the age of Web 2.0 and retailers are using more social networking and rich media, which translates into deeper and more frequent visitor sessions,” says Feige. “To avoid performance problems, retailers will need to troubleshoot across a broader range of programs and connections.”

Finding the benchmark

At present, most web retailers still only measure their own site performance. The survey finds that just 38.8% of web merchants compare their site’s response time, frequency of down time and other performance criteria against other Internet retailing sites within their niche and against companies in other segments vs. 61.2% that don’t. Specifically, only 32.3% of virtual merchants benchmark their sites against others, followed by 38.5% of consumer brand manufacturers, 43.6% of chain retailers and 47.5% of catalogers.

Customer perceptions about an online merchant’s brand are formed in large part on site availability and speed of page downloads, especially during peak shopping days such as around Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. To get a more accurate picture of web site performance, an increasing number of chain retailers, catalog companies, virtual merchants and consumer brand manufacturers are broadening the scope of their performance testing programs. The survey reveals that 33.1% test traffic within their own firewall. But 36.1% follow up that basic testing by measuring traffic across different Internet network providers, while 33.5% measure across different geographic locations and 27% directly from computers of web site visitors and customers.

“The broader they measure for site performance, including more aspects of customer interactions, the more effective their overall retailing program will be,” says Feige. “It’s easier these days for more marketing and business managers to check on performance than it was a decade ago. Proper performance monitoring is no longer the exclusive domain of the IT department.”


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