Target, Apple and Walgreens win on load times

May 30, 2016 06:00 AM

Lean websites help retailers get their pages in front of consumers quickly, and Target Corp., Apple Inc. and Walgreen Co. followed that formula to take leading desktop web performance rankings in the first quarter.

Web performance measuring firm Catchpoint Systems Inc. released its Q1 E-Commerce Web Performance Benchmark results, and all but one of the top 10 performers had page weights under 2 megabytes.

“Attention spans are getting shorter, and for e-commerce sites, even a few milliseconds of performance improvement can increase revenues. Fortunately, any website can afford to institute the same practices used by the performance leaders,” says Mehdi Daoudi, Catchpoint’s CEO and co-founder.

Catchpoint measured page loading times throughout January, February and March by monitoring the e-commerce site performance of 49 retailers, including Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (No. 4), Etsy Inc. (No. 23), Wayfair LLC (No. 24) and Inc. (No. 29). Catchpoint took measurements every two minutes from 27 monitoring stations across the country, with results collated into an average page load time for each retailer.

In addition to lighter page weights, top performers also use content delivery networks and few services such as social media plug-ins or video, Catchpoint says. Content delivery networks store site data so pages can load faster.  Retailers in the top 10 also employ a technique that gives consumers the impression of fast load times: asynchronous loading, which “skips” slow-loading elements, allowing primary site information to load first, followed by slower-loading elements, Catchpoint says. 

Load time represents the time it takes from the URL request being issued to the browser triggering the "onload" event, which is when a user can start to interact with the page even if not all elements have loaded, Catchpoint says. Top performers for webpage load times are, in seconds:

  • Target (No. 22 in the Top 500), 1.03
  • Apple (No. 2), 1.38
  • Walgreens (No. 37), 1.45
  • Systemax Inc. (No. 32), 1.66
  • Best Buy Co. Inc. (No. 12), 1.72
  • Staples Inc. (No. 5), 1.73
  • Costco Wholesale Corp. (No. 8), 1.73
  • The Home Depot Inc. (No. 7), 1.81
  • Amway (No. 43), 1.83
  • Dell Inc. (No. 3), 1.91

There’s still room for the top performers to improve because some simple performance-enhancing techniques are being ignored, Catchpoint finds. Image optimization, which renders an image in a way that uses less space (fewer bytes), is one way. One retailer’s site used Gzip to compress PNG images, Catchpoint says, but that method is not a recommended practice because it does not reduce file sizes. Another top 10 performer, in the course of Catchpoint’s Q1 monitoring, moved its JavaScript files—JavaScript is a high-level programming language—to load at the top of the page and that slowed its page load time.

“In spite of the gains many e-commerce companies have made, web performance must always be considered a work in progress,” Daoudi says.




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