The Need for Speed

Get ready to lock-and-load as researchers say e-tailers have four seconds for their home pages to appear before potential buyers bag it and shoot for another site.

You've got the killer keyword campaign. Your site is easy to navigate. Promotions are prominent and pertinent. Check-out is down to a few clicks. So why the low conversion rate? It could be that your pages are loading too slowly. Four seconds is the maximum length of time an average online shopper will wait for a Web page to load before potentially abandoning a retail site, according to a report issued this week by Akamai Technologies and JupiterResearch.


The report examined consumer reaction to poor online shopping experiences and showed that a slow-loading site is second only to high prices in turning customers away. And while Akamai is in the business of Web acceleration, the report was conducted by JupiterResearch, and does bring to the forefront the often-overlooked fact that site performance reflects on your brand-and affects sales.


Based on the feedback of 1,058 online shoppers that were surveyed during the first half of 2006, JupiterResearch offers the following analysis:

  • The consequences for an online retailer whose site underperforms include diminished goodwill, negative brand perception and, most importantly, significant loss in overall sales.
  • Online shopper loyalty is contingent upon quick page loading, especially for high-spending shoppers and people with more online shopping experience.
  • JupiterResearch recommends that retailers make every effort to keep page rendering to no longer than four seconds.


Additional findings in the report show that more than one-third of shoppers with a poor experience abandoned the site entirely, while 75 percent were likely not to shop on that site again. These results demonstrate that a poorly performing Web site can be damaging to a company's reputation because, according to the survey, nearly 30 percent of dissatisfied customers will either develop a negative perception of the company or tell their friends and family about the experience.


Big Spenders, Big Expectations
The JupiterResearch report also states:

  • Roughly half of "mature" online shoppers — those who have been shopping online for two or more years or that spend more than $1,500 annually — identify page-loading time as one of their top priorities for online sites.
  • Forty-six percent of online shoppers insist on a rapid checkout process, with 55 percent of shoppers spending $1,500 or more demanding the same.
  • Sixty-five percent indicated they are likely to return to a site that is easy to navigate, particularly during the registration, log-in and checkout processes.



Cutting Kilobytes: How Much?
So, what's a Web shop owner to do? Most Web site home pages average around 175 kilobytes, with Google at 13 kilobytes on the low end and some sites at 1MB on the other end of the spectrum, according to John Yunker of Corante who conducted a study that tested the home pages of 300 Web sites. He recommends keeping your site under 150 kilobytes to stay "ahead of the pack," and notes that the top 10 in his study all came in under 100 kilobytes.


Michelle Megna in managing editor of


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