UK retailers fail to capitalise on Cyber Monday profits, finds website performance tool

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Retailers failed to capitalise on potential profits on Cyber Monday as they struggled to cope with the pressure of increased website traffic driven by seasonal promotions, according to live website performance data from Borland, a Micro Focuscompany.

Borland said its website performance tool, Silk WebMeter, picked up a direct correlation between an increase in sales-generated traffic and a delay in website response times – a troubling situation for any retailer looking to optimise seasonal profits and capitalize on discount-savvy shoppers, it said. 

According to the research, more than 10 well-known global retailers were affected by the one–day spike in website traffic. Brands such as eBay.co.uk saw its website performance drop by 31% in the lead up to Cyber Monday, Borland claims. The site slowed from a 4.4 second load time to a 14 second load time when site traffic peaked between 17:00 and 23:45 on the 2 December 2013. 

Asos.com Europe also struggled with heavy loads as the site slowed from a 0.8 second load time to a 4.2 second load time, a 19% performance drop when the traffic peaked at 13.30 – 15.00 on Cyber Monday, Borland reports.

Both retailers could well have lost customers as research suggests that 40% of online shoppers will abandon a website if it takes more than three seconds to load.

Research has shown that even minor delays to website response times can have a sizeable impact on customer satisfaction and future shopping habits:

  • 38% of UK online shoppers abandon websites or apps that take more than 10 seconds to load
  • 24% of customers abandon their online carts due to a website crash
  • 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience
  • 44% of online shoppers will tell their friends about a bad experience online

“Customers expect an instant response from websites and have little patience with poor performing sites,” said Archie Roboostoff, product director at Borland. “Our research shows some websites continue to underperform when faced with an increase in online traffic.”

“While it’s inevitable that there will be some slowdown of website performance during seasonal peak times, retailers should have a strategy in place ahead of time to ensure their website runs smoothly during a promotional event. This includes shutting down non-essential services and increasing capacity so that their networks can handle heavy loads. This strategy can also be used as a back-up plan for any retailers who find their websites under performing in the midst of a sales promotion.”

Bridging the gap between IT and marketing

The Borland website performance data makes a clear case for marketing and IT departments to work together to ensure systems are able to deal with the traffic increases generated by online promotions, said Borland. Recent research by Borland proves this point. While 79% of the 590 global CIOs polled confirmed they are aware of seasonal events that drive web traffic, 44% do not test their websites to see if they could handle the increase in traffic despite its importance to revenue generation.

“Many marketing departments have the right to question why their website wasn’t prepared for the Cyber Monday rush,” said Roboostoff. “IT departments need to ensure their websites can adapt to changing traffic patterns, and that their testing replicates real-world online activity. That way, retailers can adequately prepare for peak site traffic, improving end-user experience, increasing conversions, and ensuring marketing campaigns deliver the maximum return on investment.”

NCC Group also monitored a range of top retail websites on Cyber Monday and found 92% failed to hit this key performance benchmark. NCC Group also said this made the day something of a missed opportunity, with research showing that 40% of users will abandon a website that takes longer than three seconds to load.

For some, the sheer weight of traffic probably impacted on performance, said NCC Group. This looks to be the case for about a third of the sites tested. Average download speed for these retailers was up by 10% or more compared with the previous three months, and one site was over 50% slower.

Bob Dowson, director of NCC Group’s website performance division, said: “You could argue that the availability of good load testing solutions makes traffic-induced performance problems unforgivable these days. However, a number of companies performed badly this year, and that might be down to the extra hype we’ve seen around Cyber Monday meaning an even greater surge in visitors.

“What’s more, a lot of retailers have been advertising Cyber Monday discounts. A closer look at some of the special promotion pages from Friday to Monday also revealed that prospective customers would have been experiencing even longer load times or timeouts at certain times of day.

“It’s also important to remember that poor performance can be caused by third-party plugins and widgets. These are also under greater strain at this time of year, and it’s difficult to factor in the effect of elements over which you have no direct control.”