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Why performance matters: making speed, scalability and reliability a priority for ecommerce sites in 2020

(Image credit: Image Credit: StockSnap / Pixabay)

Whilst UK ecommerce has seen exponential growth, and currently has the third-largest global ecommerce market, over the past few years, merchants are missing out on immediate and future successes due to poor site performance.

Many UK ecommerce sites are plagued by performance issues, including speed, reliability or simply an inability to handle surges in traffic. These issues, which may fly under the radar at other times of the year, become far more apparent when sites are visited by high volumes of concurrent users, such as during busy peak periods Christmas and Black Friday.

In order to make their websites a success at any time of year, merchants must be thoughtful about laying a strong foundation for their ecommerce to build on, and to help them get a head start on competitors. Mark Adams, GM of EMEA at BigCommerce looks at the benefits of optimising an ecommerce site, and how best to approach it in 2020.

The need for speed 

In the mind of consumers, there’s one thing that matters almost as much as a functioning website: site speed. So much so that it can also directly make or break a potential customer purchase. Long page load times have been proven to negatively affect conversion rates, meaning the longer your pages take to load, the more likely the visitor is to abandon the site. According to the Aberdeen Group, 40 per cent of shoppers will abandon a cart due to a load time exceeding three seconds, whilst globally, Statista research found that 75.6 per cent of carts are abandoned.

Google has revealed the average load time for a UK ecommerce site is seven seconds slower than its recommendations of under 1.3 seconds. That is a massive discrepancy, and greatly increases the likelihood that consumers will bounce off of the page and click on the next link on the search engine results page. This, coupled with the fact merchants will invest heavily in extensive advertising and retargeting strategies, particularly during peak periods, effectively amounts to losses for businesses.

Decreasing page load times by even a second or two helps keep your potential customer on your page - and away from your competitor’s site.

The significance of scalability

Performance isn’t just about speed. An ecommerce site needs to be built with scalability in mind. As your business grows and expands, either in terms of products you offer or frequency and volume of sales, your needs – and those of your customers - are going to change. Choosing a platform that can grow with you is essential.

One of the ways ecommerce scalability can be achieved is by incorporating headless commerce. This involves decoupling the front and back end of an ecommerce site in order to separate the content and business functionality layers. Doing so allows merchants to create a user experience completely unique to their business and deliver a seamless digital experience for consumers. For an ecommerce site, personalised consumer experiences are all about customising the shopping experience for each individual or potential customer.

Headless commerce provides merchants the flexibility to customise and make changes to the front end without affecting the commerce functionalities of the back end. It gives merchants the opportunity to not only make their business stand out, but also to provide customers with tailor-made user experiences to further differentiate the shopping journey.

The cost of reliability issues

Site reliability is also a defining factor for the immediate and long-term success of a business. It is important for merchants to remember that any downtime has a detrimental effect on ecommerce revenue. When asked, 81 per cent of businesses stated that just 60 minutes of site downtime could cost them up to £232,000. All the hard work spent optimising site speed, providing mobile functionality and retargeting strategies is immediately undone.

This Black Friday, hair care retailer GHD experienced issues with its site and closed it down for maintenance for the duration of the day. Ultimately costing the hair brand important sales during the peak trading hours, which naturally led to a slump in brand’s consumer confidence as unhappy shoppers turned to social media to complain.

Often, site issues can arise due to software not being updated or timely site maintenance not being carried out. This is particularly the case with legacy systems, which can often prove to be a significant hurdle in digital transformations. The onus is on the merchant to manage legacy dependencies and ensure that essential site maintenance is regularly carried out to avoid extended periods of site downtime. When it comes to maintenance, prevention is always better than the cure.

Security is another factor for retailers to contend with. If merchants don’t upgrade or migrate by set dates, they risk running on unsupported software. This means they could be left vulnerable to security breaches and hacks, as well as flawed functionality at a time when cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Ensuring software is up to date is imperative, as is ensuring regular and robust security testing. Moving away from an outdated legacy platform and finding one that manages updates and maintenance can also help to offer peace of mind and allow for resources and energy to be focused elsewhere.

Time to go mobile

Mobile shopping is taking over the retail industry. According to eMarketer, a third of ecommerce sales in 2019 will come from mobile. This is a huge market, which means that if your website is not optimised for mobile shopping, you will be missing out on a large portion of potential sales.

In 2018, Google started to utilise a mobile-first index. This means storefronts which are optimised for mobile viewing will receive preference in Google’s ranking algorithm. To add fuel to this argument, Google has also found that a one second delay in mobile site load time can lead to a 20 per cent drop in conversions. This is not surprising when you consider further research also conducted by Google into mobile page speed, which found that as page load time rises from 1 to 10 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by up to 123 per cent. You’re not going to make much money if no one is ever getting past your homepage.

Integrating Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) within a main ecommerce site can help merchants achieve greater mobile functionality and negate the need for constant optimisation. AMP are stripped down HTML copies of webpages that offer a faster load time that and improve the mobile experience.

2020 vision

Performance matters. Speed, scalability and reliability all matter. Without constant monitoring and improvement of these key KPIs, businesses are unlikely to survive for long. Ecommerce sites need to have the scalability to grow as the business does, but also need to stay flexible in order to meet changing customer demands. Performance, scalability and reliability are no longer just buzzwords – they are the lifeblood of any ecommerce business and are essential to capitalise on future opportunities for success.

Mark Adams, Vice President and General Manager, BigCommerce EMEA