Guest Column | February 18, 2020

Want To Win The Cyber Shopping Game? Focus On Mobile

By Ajay Kapur, Moovweb

Enterprise Mobility - Technology Hands Open

Mobile shopping is quickly turning website speed into a competition among retailers. Two years ago, holiday mobile shopping traffic surpassed desktop shopping traffic in the U.S. for the first time. That was just the beginning.

In 2019, mobile commerce broke records on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, totaling $6 billion. Shopify announced that 70 percent of all its online sales were made on a mobile device, while Salesforce’s data showed that 56 percent of its transactions were mobile. These numbers reveal that mobile can no longer be an afterthought; it is, in fact, the channel for online retail, so companies must prioritize delivering speedy websites for superb user experiences.

Keep It Simple And Make It Snappy

Today’s consumers demand fast mobile experiences. In fact, 70 percent of consumers say website speed impacts their purchase behavior. If your website is slow, you drive consumers to your faster-loading competitors.

The average e-commerce website takes three to five seconds to load. That’s a great improvement over three years ago when the average mobile site took 22 seconds to load. But three to five seconds is still a long time to wait, especially when the average consumer’s attention span is eight seconds. Website speed impacts a retailer’s entire digital strategy, from SEO to conversions to lifetime value and everything in between. So it’s not surprising that conversions drop when page loads increase. In fact, the e-commerce powerhouse Amazon found that a one-second delay in page load would cost the company $1.6 billion a year in lost revenue.

Other consequences exist, too. In 2018, Google rolled out its “Speed Update,” which tied mobile speed to search ranking so that faster sites began to rank higher than their slow-loading counterparts. In 2020, Google will roll out badges of shame to alert mobile searchers of websites that have historically slow page loads. Despite working toward a faster web for more than a decade, the search giant is only now revealing performance information to consumers. With this consumer-facing alert in place, brand perception could be impacted greatly.

Customers demand a clean interface, quick loading times, and an optimized mobile shopping experience. Retailers that have invested in website speed and deliver modern frontends, such as Walmart and Target, grow an average of 53 percent more year-over-year. Their competitive advantage is that their websites load faster for mobile shoppers.

4 Steps To Provide A Better Mobile Experience

So what can retailers focus on now to ensure they meet consumer expectations and boost revenue? Here how you can transform your presence in the marketplace:

1. Adopt A Modern Frontend

Modern frontends backed by Google allow faster page loads than ever before. These include progressive web applications, single-page applications, and accelerated mobile pages. SPAs and PWAs have extremely fast browsing transitions and give developers direct control over the browser, meaning content can be pre-fetched and page load times can be cut even further. AMP delivers lightning-fast pages from search, averaging first loads at 500 milliseconds.

However, PWAs and SPAs tend to have slower first loads than traditional websites. This can be fixed by adding server-side rendering support so that you have speedy page loads from landing through checkout. PWAs with server-side rendering and AMP support see average page loads of two seconds, which is better than the three- to five-second range, the average e-commerce website has but still far from breaking the one-second barrier.

2. Avoid Outages And Traffic-Based Slowdowns

Busy e-commerce holidays bring threats of outages and slow load times. We all remember Amazon’s Prime Day outage and the many hiccups with Macy’s, Walmart, Target, and other e-commerce websites in past years. This year, Costco’s and Home Depot’s websites also struggled — all due to traffic spikes.

The easiest way to avoid outages is to ensure your website infrastructure can scale. If you host your site on a serverless platform, you shouldn’t have a problem, but if you rely on physical servers, you will need to add more to prepare for traffic spikes. But what if you have an unexpected traffic surge?

Going headless, or separating the presentation layer from the backend logic, can help reduce stress on a server, too. Headless or microservices architecture relieves stress on the server because it uses distinct services for distinct functions.

3. Optimize The Content Delivery Network

Website speed is a full-stack problem; frontend optimization is not enough to break the one-second barrier. Unfortunately, optimizing the CDN is tricky, especially when you are running multiple campaigns. Urchin tracking modules and other trackers that impact the URL confuse traditional CDNs into thinking these are distinct pages visited by a small group instead of the same page visited by many from multiple campaigns. The CDN thinks these are a bunch of pages with low traffic volumes, so the page is not cached, adding to page load times. Consider using technology that helps your CDN understand your website.

4. Aim High With A Combined Approach

All these recommendations work best when implemented together to create a highly optimized system. However, it is quite cumbersome to stitch together different coding languages (JavaScript versus AMP HTML) and tools. In fact, only some enterprise e-commerce companies with large developer teams might be able to do this.

The goal is to create an “edge PWA,” a PWA using SSR and AMP support with high rates of dynamic content stored at the edge. These have first loads from search averaging about 500 milliseconds, first loads from other channels averaging about one second, and subsequent pages loading at 320 milliseconds median.

These are compelling numbers, yet only about 10 percent of retailers use PWAs at all (let alone the edge PWA model). But expect an increasing number of retailers to adopt similar paradigms moving forward. The rewards are too great to lag behind.

Online shopping has been a boon for retailers, but as technology progresses, it places new demands on the marketplace to keep up with consumers’ expectations. Cutting page load times should be your main focus.

Fortunately, new options for speeding up pages and handling traffic spikes mean opportunities for large wins next Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Those holidays will be here before you know it, so start implementing changes now. The retailers that do will be glad of it.

About The Author

Ajay Kapur is the cofounder and CEO of Moovweb, a platform that delivers instant commerce websites by streaming data from the edge into browsers just ahead of shoppers’ taps.