August 14, 2014, 4:40 PM

Wal-Mart’s mobile site bends the rules but stays nimble

Although the mass merchant’s mobile commerce site does not follow all recommended mobile performance best practices, the site still sticks pretty close to the Top 10 week after week on the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index.

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The mobile commerce site of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. might not be the highest-ranked site on the Internet Retailer-exclusive Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ending Aug. 10, but that doesn’t mean the site won’t please new and return visitors, says Matt Agnoli, mobile performance evangelist at mobile and web performance testing, monitoring and analytics firm Keynote.

Despite the fact that the m-commerce site’s home page at 408 kilobytes is heavier than the Keynote recommendation of a maximum of 200 kilobytes over a blend of 3G and 4G wireless networks, the site consistently ranks between 12th and 9th in the index, says Agnoli. “Although not meeting many of Keynote's recommended best practices, the site is very rich in content and smartly built,” he says.

Wal-Mart uses a coding method called Data Uniform Resource Identifier (Data URI), which groups elements and codes them directly into an HTML or CSS file, which negates the browser needing to send a download request to the server for each individual element, which slows loading time. The site has 16 data URIs, which inflates the total element count of the page, but doesn't add to the load time of the page, which was 10.19 seconds on average for the week ending August 10, Agnoli says.

Wal-Mart has 43 elements on its home page, while Sears Holdings Corp., which has held the No. 1 spot for several weeks, only uses seven page elements on its home page, which loads in just 2.21 seconds. The averages for the 30 retailers on the index is 12.47 seconds (load time) and 57 home page elements.

Wal-Mart 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 Inc. to mid-sized retailers like 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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