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An e-commerce wish list for the festive season

With the festive season fast approaching, Australian retailers and online businesses are starting to think about ways they can capitalise on the celebrations around the country.

In the past, the focus tends to be on offering the most attractive deals and bargains. But growth in digital technologies and the rise of e-commerce platforms in Australia – like the impending arrival of online retail giant Amazon– means retailers’ must look to optimise their online and mobile performance to keep shoppers engaged and ultimately purchasing.

As Australian shoppers’ expectations continue to soar, retailers need to provide high performance experiences, because even the slightest glitch can cause shoppers to go elsewhere in an instant.

In our 2017 State of Online Retail Performance Report we found that even a 100-millisecond delay in website load time can hurt conversion rates by seven per cent, and 53 per cent of mobile shoppers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.

The festive season will likely magnify these trends, which only leaves a small window of time for online retailers to prepare for the season’s onslaught of demanding customers and peak site traffic.

We’re now in the “make-or-break period” and retailers need to start implementing performance enhancement strategies and technologies to better serve customers across a variety of devices and channels.

So if you are a retailer or online business, here are the top five ways you can prepare for the festive season now- consider this the “wish list” for online retailing:

Make your website mobile friendly

This should be the first item on your list. Our data shows the mobile device is the preferred device for product research and is the first opportunity to impress your customers. A poor customer experience on mobile not only hurts your website conversions, but it can also impact instore sales where there is a high degree of influence from the digital channel to drive instore traffic.

Take a mobile first attitude when designing your site and utilise design methodologies such as responsive web design (RWD) or a combination of adaptive and responsive, referred to as responsive with server side (RESS). A responsive website will improve and optimise customer experience, help reduce frustration for mobile users by making the site seamlessly resize- so users don’t have to “pinch and zoom” when navigating- and improve your search engine optimisation (SEO), as Google starts to prioritise its mobile index.

Optimise images for each device type

High quality images increase customer engagement and lead to higher conversations. However, they can also be a major performance liability as they often account for more than 60 per cent of a page download time, especially when a desktop-sized image is loading on a mobile device.

You need to ensure that you are dynamically delivering only the correct-sized image, based on the consumer device and the proper type of image based on the browser. This will not only dramatically increase performance by serving the correct-size image for the customer’s viewpoint, but also enable you to take advantage of new high-performance image formats such as WebP.

Optimise your site for human traffic

Security must go hand-in hand with performance during the festive season, as retail leads the way as the industry most frequently targeted by attackers. Our data indicates that retail websites on average experience approximately 40 per cent of traffic from non-human bot traffic. While some of this traffic is necessary, like Google bots assessing websites, most of it is malicious in nature of unwanted traffic like content scrapers.

It is important to understand the type and source of traffic that is coming to your website and develop a strategy for intelligently managing the bots and web crawlers that can slow your website down. Your priority should be serving real customers!

Monitor for real user metrics

Utilising a Real User Monitoring (RUM) service can enable you to collect data directly from a user’s browser or mobile application in real time, and capture performance metrics such as bandwidth and page load times, as well as engagement metrics like bounce and conversion rates. With this data, you can directly correlate site performance with user behaviors that impact conversion.

RUM will help you determine actual customer service quality and highlight problem areas to focus on first, in order to increase customer satisfaction and conversion such as slow loading assets, poorly performing processes and even how third party scripts are negatively impacting your site. For instance, third party scripts should be loaded asynchronously so that they don’t block other website code from loading.

Ensure scalability

Load test your site, back-end infrastructure and code to ensure readiness for peak season. When running tests, do so in patterns that mimic how real users would behave on your site. For example, some retailers see customers add items to their cart ahead of big sale dates like Black Friday, however when the site traffic peaks, many customers go straight from the cart to checkout.

You need to make sure your cloud loading testing is taking into consideration these real-world types of user behaviour patterns. In addition, it is best practice to plan for more traffic than you project, so doubling your projections will ensure the site is ready for any unexpected peaks.

Jason Miller is chief strategist of commerce at Akamai Technologies.

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