Rakuten Shopping steadily improves mobile performance throughout May

But a curious choice to load a desktop file to mobile devices hampers performance.

Bill Siwicki

It’s only been since Jan. 31 that Buy.com was rebranded Rakuten Shopping. Many challenges arise when a company changes its name and look. The last thing Rakuten Shopping needs to worry about while working to establish a new brand name in the market is having slow mobile commerce web site page loads or poor site availability, both of which turn off potential customers, says Ken Harker, mobile strategist at mobile and web performance management firm Keynote. However,  judging by the e-retailer’s rise up the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index during May, Rakuten Shopping has made mobile site performance a priority, Harker says.

“Beginning in early May, the Rakuten Shopping m-commerce site began a steady move up the index rankings and this week ranked third, the highest it has ever ranked,” Harker says. “At 99.80% availability, the site has some of the best uptimes in the index. Overall, performance could be slightly better, with five of the top six sites in the index loading pages faster than Rakuten Shopping’s 7.55-second load time. The site does adopt most best practices for mobile performance, but is slightly heavy for 3G wireless network performance.”

Rakuten Shopping does one  unusual thing with its m-commerce site that is impacting overall performance, Harker says. When a mobile device requests Rakuten.com, Rakuten Shopping first serves the full desktop site base page HTML document, which weighs 87 kilobytes, he explains. The base page HTML document is the core web site document that contains the structure for the web page. JavaScript in that HTML then examines the user agent string—a unique HTML string that identifies the browser connecting with a retailer’s server—and if it determines that the device is an Apple iOS or Android device, it then will load the mobile-optimized home page.

“This is much less efficient than using a server-side process to determine that the user should be sent to the mobile-optimized version of the site immediately, and it leaves open the chance that users of other browsers, such as ones for Windows Phone devices, will not be served mobile-optimized content at all,” Harker says. “This unusual approach to getting the customer to the mobile-optimized site is one of the key reasons that the Rakuten Shopping mobile home page is still a second or two slower than sites like Office Depot or Amazon.com.”

Rakuten Shopping says it loads the desktop file to more easily give consumers a choice when it comes to shopping a site on a mobile device.

“User agent comparison is due to the fact that we use a content delivery network, Akamai, to cache the home page so that www.rakuten.com loads as quickly as possible for all of our users, not based on their device and/or user agent,” says Rakuten Shopping president and chief technology officer Roger Andelin. “Because of this, we use a client-side JavaScript to redirect the user. We allow our users to opt out of being redirected to the mobile site and instead shop the full site; because of this, we want to make sure users who opt out receive a consistent experience. So yes, it’s a performance hit we run by having users download our full site home page before redirecting them to the mobile site, but it gives us distinct advantages in always serving a super-fast home page to all users, regardless of their device.”

Amazon.com Inc. topped the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index for the week ending May 26 with a load time of 6.37 seconds and a success rate of 99.89%. Weighting and then combining load time and success rate earns the retailer an index score of 942 out of 1,000. Office Depot Inc. came in second with a load time of 6.22 seconds and a success rate of 99.68% for a score of 918.

Rakuten Shopping is No. 30 in the Internet Retailer Mobile 400, Amazon.com is No. 1 and Office Depot is No. 65.

The index average load time was 10.09 seconds, the average success rate was 98.87% and the average score was 764.

Click here and then click on Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index Part 1 and Part 2 to see this week’s complete results for all 30 retailers on the index.

Keynote Systems measures 30 representative m-commerce sites exclusively for Internet Retailer. The sites include merchants in multiple categories and channels, and of multiple sizes, ranging from such giants as Amazon.com Inc. to midsized retailers like Toolfetch.com LLC. Keynote tests the sites in the index every hour Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. through midnight Eastern time, emulating three different smartphones on three different wireless networks: Apple Inc.’s iPhone 4 on AT&T, the HTC Evo on Sprint and the Droid X on Verizon. The HTC Evo and the Droid X run Google Inc.’s Android operating system. Keynote runs the tests in 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.

Keynote is ranked No. 2 among web performance monitoring firms in Internet Retailer’s Leading Vendors to the Top 1000 E-retailers guide.


Ken Harker, Keynote, m-commerce, m-commerce site, m-commerce site performance, Mobile, mobile commerce, performance, Rakuten, Rakuten Shopping, Roger Andelin