September 9, 2010, 1:36 PM

The hare, not the tortoise, should win this race

Speedy page downloads are a requirement in mobile commerce.

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When cruising the mobile web, there is nothing worse than a site that takes forever to load. You have to cut a little slack, since a wireless network simply can’t be as fast as a landline. But still, a site has to have extraordinarily compelling content to keep me waiting. And studies have shown I’m not alone: Consumers expect mobile web sites to load about as fast as regular web sites.

Last week Internet Retailer and mobile and web performance management firm Keynote Systems Inc. debuted the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index, a weekly look into the realm of m-commerce site performance. We selected 16 representative m-commerce sites. They come from various product categories. Some are web-only, some are multichannel. This index, exclusive to Internet Retailer, offers a good look at just how solid a retailer needs to be when it comes to site performance.

This week, QVC again topped the list, with a score of 953 out of 1,000. Keynote creates the score by equally weighing then combining a retailer’s mobile home page load time with the rate of success for loading that page. It tests the sites all week, throughout the day. QVC’s download time was 1.95 seconds and its success rate was 98.6%.

The lesson here is keeping things light. If you go to the QVC mobile site, you will see that it has pared down its offerings to include only a few links to featured products and very little imagery. Other retailers may find they require more imagery and more content for the home page, but that has to be balanced with speed.

The index average score was 730, with an average load time of 5.29 seconds and a success rate of 98.17%. There clearly is room for improvement, especially with that success rate, which I believe should be well over 99%. But I must say that in my experience with the mobile web, not just m-commerce sites but all sites, a 5.29-second load time is not bad. It’s not great, but it’s passable. Most retailers won’t want to go the QVC route and pare down to that degree, so I would say that for now, striving toward 3 seconds would be a good goal.

But we’ll see as time goes on and the mobile web continues to evolve—and as 4G networks speed things along even faster. And Keynote will continue to provide expert commentary every week as it presents this key look into performance.

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