Why slow website speed is a problem for marketing, not just tech teams

Hedley Aylott: chief executive at Summit
Hedley Aylott: chief executive at Summit

The latest research by online retail specialists Summit has found that slow loading websites will cost UK retailers £8.5 billion in 2013. So, for a retailer turning over £10 million online this could translate to a loss of almost £1 million in revenue.

This paints a bleak picture of lost sales as busy shoppers either leave the site or buy a lot less. And with social media ever more prevalent, consumers can share their angst with peers and the wider world, further damaging brand image.

Our survey found that 92 per cent of retailers failed to achieve the three-second page load benchmark, costing them sales that could potentially fund the opening of a new store. The story was the same across a range of sectors, with sports and fitness performing particularly badly.  If there was a winner in this low-performing pack, it would be travel, as 20 per cent of the sites met the industry standard.

For too long, marketers have ignored website speed as a technical issue, with little understanding of the wider impact it was having on their conversion rate and brand image. Our report exposes the real cost and raises the issue as a wider concern for marketing, customer service and indeed the boardroom.

With a minimum of 30 per cent of retailers’ site traffic coming from mobile devices – where connection speeds are slower – a fast website is crucial to keep this audience engaged and shopping.

The front end of a website is often the biggest contributor to slowing down page load speed and a creative feature that is heavy with CSS or beautifully designed pages with images that haven’t been optimised are usually the culprits.

For fashion consumers, browsing on ecommerce sites is an important part of the decision-making process. Many fashion sites invest heavily in design and features to engage their audience, but fail to ensure these are optimised correctly to ensure the experience is a fast one.

Online retailers need to find the right balance between brand, design, user experience and performance. By running sites through a performance checker at various trading periods with very high peaks or low troughs, retailers can evaluate their current speed and measure this against the industry benchmarks.

Hosting also plays a role in site performance and as retailers, particularly those in fashion and apparel, expand internationally, they need to keep speed in mind when establishing their hosting infrastructure. Retailers can deploy content across multiple, geographically dispersed servers to make pages load faster from the user’s perspective.

Lastly, including site speed in their daily and weekly performance metrics is crucial in raising the visibility of this issue.  This metric can now be found in Google Analytics.

So as roles adapt and responsibilities continue to blur across business departments, marketers need to take greater interest and ownership of website performance and work more closely with their web teams to address the problem of poor website speed to mitigate the impact on customer experience, the brand and ultimately sales.

Hedley Aylott is chief executive at Summit

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