In today’s fiercely competitive retail market, the battle for customers is no longer fought on the high street, but online. The website has become the new shop window. And much like an untidy, dilapidated window display, a poorly functioning website will hinder retailers in their attempt to drive sales.
Over the last few years, we have seen high profile casualties, such as BHS and Store Twenty One, sink because of their reluctance to move with the times and channel their efforts towards online. In an industry that survives on tight margins and where the consumer has more choice than ever, customer experience has become a key battleground for retail brands.
However, online customer experience is especially important over the main Christmas shopping and sales period, which runs from Black Friday to January 3rd and has the potential to make or break a retailer’s year. Indeed, in 2017 there was close to £1.4bn spent during online sales on Black Friday alone, up 11.7 per cent from 2016.
Retailers keeping pace with consumer demands
Dynatrace’s recent retail benchmark study shone a light on how well retailers performed during the Christmas season, by examining how well-designed their sites were to deliver a great customer experience. The study benchmarked leading retail websites in the US, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Australia, China and the Nordic region.
At a time when shoppers are demanding functionality at a faster rate than ever before, it is important for retailers to provide a great experience, and make sure that customers can get on with their online shopping as fast as possible, rather than getting stuck watching their screen buffering for ages. When you consider that the typical consumer expects a website to load within three seconds or less, the findings make pretty good reading for retailers. We found that, on average, global retail websites were visually complete and ready to use within 2.5 seconds.
In almost every region, consumers were able to access and browse retail websites within three seconds, the only outlier being China. Shoppers in Germany and the UK were treated to the quickest times, able to access and browse retail websites within just two seconds.
Looking at the figures more broadly, retailers in Europe generally had the best online experience, with e-commerce sites in Germany, the UK and France all faster than the global average, whilst the US and Australia were significantly slower. Clearly there is still work to be done in many regions, but overall, the generally fast loading times retailers were able to provide to many of the world’s online shoppers delivered a good online shopping experience during the Christmas season.
Visually Complete your understanding of CX
Dynatrace analysed the speed of global websites using Visually Complete, a new metric that measures how long it takes for a web page to appear fully loaded and ready to use from the perspective of the user. This marks a change from the commonly used metric of response time, which measures the total time it takes for the entire website to load – including the parts that users can’t see and therefore don’t actually impact on their experience.
Response time is still an important metric, but it isn’t focused enough on the factors that impact on the user experience. If retailers only focused on response time, they might be able to reduce the time needed to get the whole page loaded, but not actually have any impact on the customer’s experience.
In practice, Visually Complete gives a much truer picture of customer experience. Shoppers will typically only care about the ‘above the fold’ parts of the website, which they see and interact with when they first browse to a website, and not so much the technical and ‘below the fold’ elements that they cannot see.
The importance of this shift in how website performance can be optimised to deliver the very best possible user-experience is catching on with the wider tech community. For example, Google recently announced that it is implementing “lazy loading” on Chrome browsers for Android – giving consumers access to the top half of a website as fast as possible, and loading the rest as the user scrolls through. This is expected to improve load speed times by between 18 per cent - 35 per cent, which will make a huge difference to user experience.
CX is vital to winning the ecommerce battle
Providing shoppers with a great online shopping experience is vital for retailers looking to succeed in the cut-throat world of ecommerce. The numbers in our retail benchmarking report may seem like fine margins, but the impact of website loading speeds can have a very real impact on sales. To put the importance of this into context, US-based fashion retailer Nordstrom reported an 11 per cent fall in sales following a slowdown of just half a second in website performance.
With consumers increasingly demanding more from retailers, and this trend set to continue, it is great to see that ecommerce websites are performing in line with consumer expectations. German and UK retailers should be giving themselves a pat on the back. However, there is always room to improve and retailers should be making an ongoing effort to improve performance to keep pace with consumer expectations, as they continue to expect websites to load even faster in the future.
By looking at website performance through the new lens that Visually Complete provides, retailers have a key measure with which they can truly understand online user visuaexperience and focus on optimising the things that matter. Not only will these please customers, but as detailed by Nordstrom, it’ll also help retailers to remain competitive in the online customer experience battleground.
Dave Anderson, digital performance expert, Dynatrace
Image Credit: Georgejmclittle / Shutterstock