Web Performance for Retailers

Making customers happy is the not-so-secret secret to retail success. Delivering a fast, consistent online experience has been proven to measurably increase every metric retailers care about – from conversions and revenue to retention and brand perception. (You can find a number of great web performance case studies on WPO Stats.)

How does your site stack up against leading retailers?

Check out our Industry Page Speed Benchmarks for a current performance snapshot of leading retailers in the US, EU, and Japan.

Delivering great, fast online experiences starts with asking two questions:

  • What is making my pages seem slower for my users?
  • What can I do about it?

The good news is that most of the issues that are making pages slow for your shoppers are right on your pages, which means you have control over them. Here's an overview of the most common performance issues on retail sites, and how you can track them down and fix them.

What's making your pages seem slower?

The vast majority of performance issues are caused by four things:

  • Third parties, such as trackers and analytics
  • Stylesheets
  • Custom fonts
  • Page size, particularly image size

Third parties

A typical retail web page these days can contain upwards of 75 third-party scripts, such as trackers and analytics beacons. Third parties add tons of value by increasing conversions (via targeting beacons) and helping you understand your users in unprecedented ways (via analytics tags), so they’re not going away any time soon. But as pretty much everyone knows by now, they can really affect how your page renders.

What you can do: Monitor the performance of your third parties

Start by taking a proactive approach to understanding any potential performance damage your third parties can cause. You can't fix what you're not measuring, which is why we created a dedicated third-party dashboard in SpeedCurve, so you can see at a glance how your third parties are performing, track individual scripts, and set performance budgets for them. After you've gained some visibility into the performance of your third-party scripts, you can use your historical data to set SLAs with your vendors.

Case study: Marks & Spencer revolutionized performance by focusing on third party content

Stylesheets

Stylesheets are an incredible boon for modern webpages. They solve a myriad of design problems, from browser compatibility to design maintenance and updating. Without stylesheets, we wouldn’t have great things like responsive design. However, poorly executed stylesheets can create a host of performance problems. These range from CSS that takes too long to download and parse, to improperly placed stylesheets that blocks the rest of the page from rendering.

What you can do: Know which of your stylesheets can block your pages from rendering

Again, you can't fix what you don't measure. We've made it easy for you to find out if your pages have critical blocking resources, such as CSS and JavaScript. You can create custom charts in your Favorites that let you know things like:

  • How many stylesheets are in my pages, and how many of those are blocking the page from rendering?
  • Has that number gone up or down?
  • How big are the CSS requests?
  • How are stylesheets performing for each of my third parties?

Custom fonts

Custom fonts allow designers unprecedented control over the typefaces used in their designs. This desire for control accounts for the surge in popularity of custom fonts. But this popularity comes with a performance price tag. Some fonts require huge amounts of CSS code, while others have heavy JavaScript or are hosted externally – all of which can dramatically slow down page rendering.

What you can do: Track how the size and rendering speed of your fonts

In addition to tracking font size and number of requests, you can also use SpeedCurve to measure when your first H1 element finishes rendering. (In SpeedCurve, we call this metric Hero H1. It's one of a set of three Hero Rendering Times we capture.) If your site uses custom fonts, it's quite likely that those fonts will be applied to H1 copy, which makes this metric an effective way to measure how quickly your custom fonts are rendering.

As with all the other metrics we track for you, you can create performance budgets for any of your font-related metrics and get alerts when they exceed their threshold.

Case study: NerdWallet used the H1 Render metric to help improve font loading by up to 30%

Images and page size

While page size doesn’t always correlate to a slower user experience, it often can. Huge unoptimized images are a frequent culprit.

What you can do: Create performance budgets for your image-related metrics

As mentioned earlier in this article, performance budgets and alerts are a great way to fight regression. A performance budget starts with your team (everybody: marketing, designers and developers) agreeing on the principles around the user experience and how fast your website should feel. First, you need to identify which metrics to track, then set your threshold based on past performance.

For images, here are some metrics to consider:

  • Image size – Total size of all images on a page. This is a good way to see at a glance if a large unoptimized image has been added to a page.
  • Image requests – Total number of images on a page.
  • Largest Contentful Paint – This is the size of the largest visual element – either an image or video – in the viewport. LCP is one of Google's Core Web Vitals, which is a set of metrics that are part of Google's search ranking algorithm, so it's a good idea to track it.

Case study: How Zillow became bigger, faster, and more engaging while on a budget

Get started

Delivering fast, joyous experiences to online shoppers has never been as important as it is now. If you're already a SpeedCurve user, you can take advantage of the many ways to make your site feel faster for your users. If you're not already a SpeedCurve user, sign up for your free trial so you can explore these features and get to know your site better – the way your users see it.


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