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Q4 2014 mobile site performance benchmark report

The second installment in a new exclusive series, this publication is reporting on quarterly mobile site performance as monitored by Catchpoint Systems, New York. Find out in this installment how leading brands in the retail, banking and travel sectors fared.

Here, in its entirety, is the report as penned exclusively for this publication by Drit Suljoti, CPO and cofounder of Catchpoint.

With the smoke having cleared from the biggest shopping period of the year, the retail industry can now look back on fourth quarter of 2014 with a sense of pride.

Mobile retail sites monitored by Catchpoint averaged a Webpage load time of 2.06 seconds throughout the quarter, and the vast majority of sites registered availability marks of over 99 percent despite the traffic increases.

As we have seen in the past, retail mobile sites often have an excess of data and requests, which tends to increase around peak shopping periods due to more ads, tracking pixels and high-res images featuring all of the merchandise that is on sale.

This held true during Q4, as mobile sites saw a spike in the amount of total downloaded bytes, and the average page weight went up by more than 60 percent from the same period in 2013.

In spite of that increase, developers showed that they have increased their page optimization strategies by keeping their load times in the acceptable range.

The average load time even decreased by nearly 300 milliseconds from Q3. Once again it was Sears leading the way with the fastest Webpage load time in the industry by a wide margin, due largely to the fact that it uses an extremely lightweight homepage of just more than 60K downloaded bytes.

Macy’s also deserves some praise, as it showed a commitment to great performance by lowering its median load time by over a full second from the third quarter of last year, and pulled this off without even decreasing its page weight by a significant amount.

Top performers (Webpage load time):

1. Sears
2. Macy’s
3. Bloomingdale’s
4. Grainger
5. Office Depot

Mobile banking sites, despite needing fewer third-party tags than retail sites, actually came in slower than retail as a whole in Q4, with an average Webpage load time of 2.12 seconds.

The best performer for a second straight quarter was Citizens Bank, which had a median load time of 0.53 seconds, beating the second-place finisher by a wide margin. U.S. Bank, which came in second place, had a median load time of 1.09 seconds.

Catchpoint did not see much variation at all with the banking sites from the Q3 data, as the number of requests stayed nearly identical, especially for the top three finishers of Citizens Bank (nine requests), U.S. Bank (10) and Citibank (19).

Not surprisingly, the bottom third of sites in terms of Webpage load time also all had more than 50 objects on the page. The second-slowest page, TD Bank, also had an average total page weight of over 2.3 million bytes, more than double the second-heaviest page, and was also the only site to register an availability score of under 99 percent.

The correlation between availability and the number of objects on the page is clear, and also not surprising.

More requests that have to be made means more opportunities for bottlenecks and potential failures, which is one reason why the three sites with the fewest requests (Citizens Bank, U.S. Bank and Chase, which had 10) all registered availability above 99.87 percent.

Top performers:

1. Citizens Bank
2. U.S. Bank
3. Citibank
4. Chase
5. Wells Fargo

Given the advanced functionality and feature-rich pages of mobile travel sites, it is not surprising that the travel industry registered the slowest collective group time.

Even so, the sites tested had a respectable average Webpage load time of 2.33 seconds – just 13 percent slower than the retail industry. And even that number was affected by one airline’s page, which was the only site to register a median time of more than four seconds. The removal of that outlier would have brought the average time down to 2.2 seconds.

The fastest site was Google Flights, which was one of just two with a median Webpage load time of under a second. The other was Kayak, which can owe their speed to having one of the lightest homepages of the sites tested and an impressive 99.97 percent availability.

Showing an obvious attention to performance optimization was TripAdvisor, which had the fifth-heaviest page, but mitigated the impact by having just 19 objects on the page. This resulted in the third-fastest Webpage load time of 1.23 seconds, and along with Kayak and United, tied for the second-best availability at 99.97 percent.

Top performers:

1. Google Flights
2. Kayak/
3. TripAdvisor
4. Southwest
5. JetBlue

In summary, the top mobile sites should be commended for strong performance during what is typically the peak traffic season for all of them.

For the most part, they have been able to offset any potential negative impact from heavier pages by applying advanced performance optimization techniques.

However, the current pace at which content is being added is a cause for concern.

For example, when we examined mobile commerce site performance around the holidays, we found that mobile commerce sites were nearly twice as heavy as they were last year.

The corresponding performance declines may not be a cause for concern yet, but if the current trajectory keeps up, it remains to be seen if performance optimization techniques will still be able to compensate.