Mobile Website Performance: 6 Tips for the Holidays

Holiday shopping isn’t what it used to be. Dashing through the mall has been replaced by surfing through the web. Coupons have been replaced with promotional emails touting “free shipping.” And this year, more than ever, consumers are turning to their mobile devices to find deals, browse products and purchase gifts.

Even the time of day during which consumers holiday shop is changing. According to the 2013 Compuware Professional Services Holiday Shopping Survey, one in five consumers will use their mobile devices to shop while at work or at school. Convenience is also a draw for mobile holiday shopping: 15 percent of consumers will shop while using the bathroom and more than half of consumers would rather shop via mobile device than brave the hordes of shoppers at brick-and-mortar stores.

Still, mobile shopping isn’t without its downfalls. Consumers stress over slow-loading sites – 20% of those surveyed prefer being stuck in a traffic jam to waiting for a site to load.

So how do retailers ensure optimal mobile website performance during the most wonderful – and busy – time of the year? Here are six tips:

Keep it simple
When consumers utilize their mobile phones for holiday shopping, their needs are urgent. It’s likely that they are close to making a purchase and simply need to check one last product attribute. At this point in the shopping process, the last thing a shopper wants to see is an “Unable to Load Page” message. By cutting the clutter and keeping your mobile website as clean as possible, you will avoid annoying page-loading issues. For example, animation is largely unnecessary – especially during this busy time of year. Mobile users who know what they want will only get frustrated when they are slowed down by animation. If a mobile user can’t find what they are looking for quickly, the sale will easily be lost to a competitor with a higher performing mobile website.

Monitor, monitor, monitor
One of the most important steps you can take to avoid mobile issues this holiday season is to be ever-vigilant. If you’re constantly aware of what is happening on your mobile page, you can more quickly find and fix problems. At the first signs of mobile website or app issues, take immediate steps to ensure that your customers’ mobile shopping experience goes uninterrupted.

Lessen your reliance on third parties
A common misconception is that third-party items load last, after your “good” content. However, when it comes to render order, there is simply no guarantee which items will load first. The more non-user-facing content you force through via mobile, the longer consumers will wait for your main content – the content that sells products. During the peak 2012 holiday shopping season, even properly delivered third-party tags produced errors 17 percent of the time, according to BrightTag data. Pair this with network congestion and you may find that third-party issues are directly impacting your customers.

Reduce complex content containers, such as carousels
To put it simply, static content is best. The more you introduce complex presentations, such as rotating carousels or other interactive elements, the slower and less predictable your page will become. Complex designs need more technology – such as JavaScript – to make them work. To put this into perspective, consider a masthead image that is part of an interactive carousel: this can take up to five times longer to render than a single image.

Continually lighten your render order
As a result of mobile browser behavior and the inconsistent speed of cellular connections, mobile web pages rarely render in the order you expect them to. For example, if your main content gets snagged on a slow connection thread, your browser can get preoccupied and render less important content – such as social integration tags in your footer – first. The only way to ensure that your browser will only render “good” content is to only provide good content. In other words, keep the page as light as possible.

Be nimble
Above all else, be flexible this holiday shopping season. As you closely monitor your mobile web page, have a process in place to catch errors and be willing to change directions as issues occur. Multiple changes will be made to your page throughout the shopping season – items will become unavailable, prices will change, new promotions will be added – and changes can easily trigger errors. If you are proactive and have the ability to catch errors early, it will be easier to find the source of the error.

Website performance is crucial during the holiday season because poor performance has harsher consequences this time of year. Not only can you risk losing sales during a time in which your margins should increase, but also you can lose potential new customers. For this reason, retailers must reduce heavy content and constantly monitor web pages for problems.

Even if problems persist, let this holiday season serve as a learning experience about mobile shopping. Once the crowds have passed, evaluate how your mobile systems fared and figure out what you can do better for next season.

Bharath Gowda is Strategic Solutions Director at Compuware Technology Performance Services.

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