Understanding eCommerce Site Performance for the Holidays

This post was originally published on the Rigor Web Performance blog.

It’s that time of year again. Imagery of turkeys and cornucopias have started to litter sidewalks and clutter isles in retail outlets. Children build lists for Santa Claus and parents scour the web in search of this year’s hottest new toy.

Yes, it’s holiday season. Meaning consumers are about to open their wallets in a big way over the next two months as consumer spending reaches the highest points of the year. Ecommerce Retailers must ensure that they are adequately prepared for the load of traffic about to hit their websites.

The State of eCommerce in 2013

IBM’s seventh annual holiday readiness report detailed many startling trends related to eCommerce buyers:

  • eCommerce sales have increased 10% year over year
  • Mobile sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday leapt 43% and 55% respectively over prior year
  • Average order value and items per order reach new peaks
  • Consumer attention hits all-time lows as average session length declines and percentage of single page sessions increase

Addressing Consumer Attention Concerns

Wait, what was that last piece? Yes, today’s eCommerce market is more vibrant than ever before with a multitude of niche/specialized outlets and storefronts for the consumer to choose from. However, while online shopping has grown in popularity, user expectations of online retailers have similarly increased. Check out these numbers:

  • In 2013, the average bounce rate per website was over 34%, up from the 2011 average of 28%.
  • The average session length on an eCommerce site declined 40 seconds from previous year
  • Page views per session declined year over year from 2011-2013 from 9 to 7 pages

As online sales make up a larger percentage of a company’s revenue, a functioning and fast website is essential to improving customer conversion and retention rates. Let’s take a look at some of the ways website performance can affect conversion rates and revenue.

Optimization and Speed

Slow speeds play a huge role in user abandonment on a website. A Kissmetrics study found that 40% percent of shopping users who experience load times of 3 seconds or more will abandon a website.

Competitor infiltration due to website abandonment, loss of repeat purchases and customer loyalty, negative brand equity, impaired employee productivity and loss of advertising revenue are all hidden costs that occur as a result of a broken or slow website.

More than $3 billion in lost sales due to poor performance.

Of the total shopping carts abandoned on the web every year, 18% can be attributed to slow pages which correlates to more than $3 billion in lost sales (across US ecommerce sites) due to poor performance. The revenue an eCommerce company can lose from poor performance makes investing in performance tools a worthwhile necessity.

Downtime and Reliability

Downtime on a website results in a significant loss in sales and in customer equity. If a customer experiences downtime their first time using a website, they are highly likely to leave for a competitor and may never return. Even for returning customers, downtime closes a door for future sales.

Amazon-goes-down-losing-millionsAn unreliable website that experiences downtime is similar to closing the doors to a brick and mortar retail store during operating hours. Simply put, if the doors are closed, consumers can’t shop.

Improving Performance: What’s out there?

Once you’ve decided that improving web performance is worth the investment, what do you invest in? Two predominant solutions exist in the front-end web performance space to monitor and measure the ongoing health and reliability of your site as it relates to the end-user: Real User Monitoring and Synthetic Monitoring.

Real User Monitoring (RUM)

Real User Monitoring (RUM) is a technology that utilizes Javascript injected into a browser to passively collect user information as they engage your website. This provides accurate and comprehensive consumer data that is beneficial when addressing the needs of your website from the customer’s perspective. For example, if you can focus on the aspects of your site that are most used, you can have a better shot at improving the customer experience.

RUM provides value in an omni-channel environment, as it captures the experience of all users accessing your site from any device and geographic location. Most eCommerce marketers already have access to a form a real user monitoring if they utilize Google Analytics.


There are apparent limitations to this solution when it comes to diagnosing the source of the issues on your site. Waterfall charts are not generated from this approach and it lacks the ability to alert you to your problems rapidly.

For websites that are receiving heavy traffic on a regular basis such as Youtube or Amazon, a RUM solution will gather excessive data that can hamper your ability to decipher what is actually important.

During peak periods, such as the holiday season, the vast amount of information being gathered can prevent you from being able to pinpoint certain problems due to the variety and scale of user sources interacting with the website or application.

Lastly, because it is a piece of javascript that a user loads when they access your site, RUM can be a cause of latency and poor performance.

Synthetic Monitoring 

Another technique for monitoring web performance is called Synthetic monitoring. Synthetic Monitoring uses real browsers to access a website or application and mimic consumer actions. These solutions leverage browsers from multiple locations with varying internet connections to mock the end-user experience, allowing organizations to quickly and preemptively diagnose website problems and errors.

Because of the ability of synthetic monitoring tools to perform transactional tests, organizations can identify functional issues on their site as well (such as the inability to complete a checkout process).  Most tools, like Rigor,  provide alerting capabilities to alert users if the site is slow or experiencing downtime.

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This preventative approach puts the company in the driver’s seat of their performance monitoring and allows them to decrease the probability that negative effects will be incurred by end users and customers.

A limitation of synthetic monitoring is that, unlike RUM, it does not capture actual user interactions. However, due to the controlled nature of synthetic monitoring, organizations can more quickly isolate and identify the causes of performance issues to ensure that any service disruption that occurs is resolved expeditiously.


In an increasingly competitive eCommerce landscape where holiday sales account for nearly 20 percent of total annual revenue, retailers must ensure that their websites are adequately prepared for the holiday rush. Consumer attention is at an all-time low, while market saturation is at an all-time high meaning websites must perform at a high level in relation to their peers.

Leveraging performance tools is a must and understanding your options is the first step to preparing your website for the chaos that is the holiday season.

Unsure how fast your site is? Try our free web tool, webperformancegrader.com, to see how your website performance stacks up against key competitors.


Published by

Chapman Lever

The Most Interesting Man in the World

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