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Complex mobile sites put the Grinch in holiday shopping for some

Target, Victoria’s Secret and Footlocker are among the retailers with mobile performance issues during the recently holiday weekend as increased traffic taxed more complex sites.

Overall, retailers’ mobile sites and applications are using more third-party elements and are otherwise more complex than a year ago, reflecting the need for enhanced experiences as mobile shopping grows. Retailers such as Amway, Gap and Amazon adeptly handled the added bells and whistles during the high traffic experienced over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to claim the fastest Web page load times.

“This year, the average mobile page weight was 1.38 MB, and the average mobile webpage load time was 2.14 seconds,” said  Dritan Suljoti, CPO and co-founder at Catchpoint Systems.

“Compared to last year’s data, this represents a 27 percent increase in page size, but just a two percent increase in load time,” he said. “That’s a step in the right direction, as last year saw a 62 percent load time increase from 2013.

“So pages are still getting heavier, but at least their performance isn’t suffering as much from it.”

More outages
Retailers need to balance sophisticated shopping features with fast load times to drive engagement and conversions. Potential issues that may go unnoticed during most of the year quickly become apparent during busiest shopping days of the years, such as Black Friday.

Web performance company Catchpoint reports that there were more micro-outages and longer full outages than in recent years across both desktop and mobile.

In many instances, it was third-party elements on Web pages that caused sites to slow down and negatively impact the shopper’s experience.

Target experienced micro-outages across mobile and desktop on Cyber Monday.

Newegg experienced periods of unavailability on Black Friday, slow load times when it was available and intermittent problems throughout Saturday and Sunday across desktop and mobile. By Monday, the problems did not appear to have been adequately addressed.

Victoria’s Secret saw micro-outages on desktop and mobile on Saturday and Sunday.

HP’s mobile site was down from 6 a.m. through 9 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Footlocker saw elevated response times that were directly attributable to a third-party service.

The mobile version of Saks’ site was unavailable for a time on Black Friday.

Several retailers also experienced problems on their native apps, including J. Crew, Target and Newegg.

“Much like desktop sites, the biggest pain point for mobile this year was third-party services,” Mr. Suljoti said. “As an example, HP’s mobile performance problems noted above were directly attributable to a third-party service.

“One poorly performing third-party service can be all it takes to slow down and negatively impact the online shopper’s experience,” he said.

The fastest sites
The top five fastest ecommerce mobile sites were Amway, with a 1.02 second median Web page load time, Gap with 1.15 seconds, Amazon with 1.24 second, Systemax with 1.28 seconds and Apple with 1.28 seconds.

According to digital monitoring company Dynatrace, which tracks application performance, the top 10 retailers are delivering a mobile response time of three seconds or less, which is a good baseline. However, response times overall are slightly slower than last year because of added complexity.

Some issues are to be expected as retailers build out their digital offerings. It is how they address these problems that often determines how significant they are.

“Outages are a fact of life on the Internet,” said David Jones, a digital performance analyst at Dynatrace. “It’s also a question of how quickly you respond.

“Ideally you’d like to have the issue resolved before customers even notice,” he said. “And if you have a plan, have the right tools, and understand the data, you’re giving yourself the best possible shot at minimizing the damage from the crises that can and will occur.

“It’s all about being prepared.”

The right balance
Retailers also need to make sure their mobile sites are properly optimized and consider how they can cutback on content without comprising the shopping experience.

“The biggest pain points are a general increase in mobile web complexity,” Mr. Jones said. “Retailers need to take advantage of Responsive Design to make sure that their mobile sites are optimized as much as possible for not only the presentation on the device but the delivery of content.

Dynatrace reports that retailers with fantastic desktop sites will try to deliver the same amount of content over mobile, and end up struggling to deliver a good experience.

“A best practice approach is to reduce the amount of content you deliver over mobile, so a recommended first step is to reduce the number of objects, cut down on connections, and try to scale back your reliance on third-parties,” Mr. Jones said. “You may end up with a site that features a few less bells and whistles, but the customer experience will be better, which is much more important during peak times like Cyber Monday.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York