By Robert Castley
Keynote has been analysing the performance and availability of twelve popular Valentine’s Day gift and card websites*, to assess the consumer experience. It has found that the average length of time shoppers waited for Valentine’s Day pages to load was unacceptably slow, for example, Marks & Spencer’s Valentine’s flowers page took an average of over five seconds to load during the last three weeks. With competitors such as Tesco posting a load time of under half a second, this is particularly worrying.
Furthermore, two of the sites – ‘Not On The Highstreet’ on January 25th, and Thorntons on February 7th – suffered significant outages meaning that none of their customers were able to load the Valentine’s Day webpage at these times. Research also found that many pages had been modified with promotions to encourage purchases for Valentine’s Day, often adding to the number of objects and therefore the size of the page, which resulted in considerably increased load times. Thorntons for example, increased its page objects from 119 to 234 on February 8th.
It is understandable that retailers want to enhance websites in the run up to Valentine’s Day, but it is paramount that customer experience is kept top of mind. Every change that is made to a website will have implications, and website owners need to identify and evaluate these before they act. Essentially, there needs to be a balance between a feature-rich online experience, and a responsive website for customers. This Valentine’s Day, the majority of websites monitored failed to find a good balance – at best they delivered a slow service, at worst the page wasn’t available to customers at all.
A good online customer experience is absolutely critical for retailers to capitalise on busy periods, such as Valentine’s Day, when competition and demand is at a peak. High load times will push customers to competitors, as they fear sites crashing during payment, or simply become impatient with the time it takes to load the desired page. Occasions such as Valentine’s Day will draw a high volume of potential customers to a website, giving them greater exposure than usual, and retailers need to remember that if a customer has a poor experience, this could lead to shopping cart abandonment, will reduce the likelihood of repeat custom, and may damage reputation.
About the author
Robert Castley is performance management expert at Keynote.