It plays a key role in determining customer conversion rates and is constantly being optimized by businesses involved in eCommerce – website load speed. I have taken a closer look at the performance of German-language online print stores.
It’s not surprising that online stores with a worse overall performance achieve fewer conversions – that is a proven fact. Low prices and a neat layout are simply not adequate if the bounce rate is high. Therefore online print providers, who want to maintain high levels of store usability, need to keep their eyes on load speeds, even if more complex websites are involved. And given that customers – irrespective of whether they are B2B or B2C – don’t always access stores via direct addresses, load speed plays a key role, in ranking terms as well. That’s because in addition to other factors, speed is and remains one of the essential technical prerequisites for a good search engine ranking. Anybody who has an HTTPS-encrypted website – which now applies to most online print providers in the D/A/CH region – needs to keep up the pace in terms of load speed. That’s because Google, for example, downgrades websites that only offer an “unsafe or insecure” connection – but encryption also takes time. For their part, online store customers are directly sensitive to both aspects, and if necessary opt not to go with a particular offering. And just like other eCommerce websites, load speed is a success criterion for achieving conversions that also applies to all online print providers.
In order to obtain a reliable picture of online print providers from the D/A/CH region, I have selected several stores and monitored their performance together with my team. I shall briefly outline the monitoring process for non-IT-specialists and for those that want to try it out for themselves. Requests for page impressions were made to 14 online print provider URLs and the relevant homepages, to standard product pages and search pages. Successful requests that were relayed via Google Chrome 17 were notified to the system detailing status code 200 – which corresponds with “OK” – and the relevant time between sending the request and the response, i.e. the response time. These times were recorded at intervals of 30 minutes over a period of two weeks.
“Those online print providers that skimp on the technical performance of their websites will lose customers. That’s because load speed is a key aspect of retaining satisfied customers. Things can get problematical if a slow page clouds one’s impression of the overall offering.” – Bernd Zipper
That’s all well and good – a few figures are now revealed. But what do they tell us? So to cover my back in that respect and to obtain another professional assessment, I contacted Joscha Krug, CEO of ScaleCommerce, and discussed the recorded times with him. You are better off taking a look at average values, since these provide a more representative picture than solely considering minimum and maximum values. The following rule of thumb applies here:
I don’t want to present the well-inclined reader with any confusing curves here, so I have summarized the data collected in the following chart. The homepage plays a particularly important role as the gateway to individual products as far as usability is concerned. These pages demonstrate above all that most of the print providers considered delivered satisfactory performance on average – in other words the homepage optimization need is very low to low at four out of five print providers. Even the slower 15% only marginally exceeded the 1-second threshold. That shows that a great deal of importance is apparently attached to homepages and most providers have already enhanced theirs.
It’s a slightly different story with product or detail pages. Despite significantly lower fluctuations compared to homepages (here there were peaks of up to 14 seconds!), there is overall a greater need for action here. As far as this type of page is concerned, two of the print providers considered have an average load time of more than 3 seconds, which can be very off-putting to some customers. Some online print providers still seem to underestimate the fact that feel-good factors play an important role, even in B2B business. The slower ones among them risk more bounces here. Furthermore the detail pages in particular show that the major players – with the exception of Vistaprint, which surprised me somewhat – generate very short response times, which come in at under 200 milliseconds on half of the sites tested. In the expert’s opinion: “There is a pretty high probability that the major players utilize a cache for detail pages, there is barely any other explanation for these load times. Caching is a good method of achieving great performance, even at peaks. Caching becomes a problem where non-static page impressions are involved, like for example, personalization functions. With caching you always need to remember that, while it can speed up the application, the store also has to function without it.” Therefore always keep the page streamlined so that it also functions without caching.
How can I as an online print provider now quickly find out more about my own performance? Google, for example, provides a simple tool – PageSpeed Insights – that highlights both performance of as well as simple optimization suggestions for the desktop and mobile versions of pages. The print provider websites considered did not perform well in a couple of the tests, in particular as far as mobile display was concerned. While PageSpeed is adequate for providing an overview, those who are serious about improving, however, (and in terms of speed I would definitely advise some to do so) should seek professional advice and get the job done.
My take: this performance monitoring exercise showed that some D/A/CH online print providers are already well positioned. There were no catastrophic results. And according to the expert, the relatively constant load times indicate sensibly sized servers to a very large extent. The major players in particular – with only a few exceptions – apparently have this issue on their radar more than the smaller ones. But it is safe to assume that the major online print providers have entire departments handling this issue. In conclusion, this overview definitely does not offer a reason for resting on one’s laurels. Those who think that a couple of milliseconds are not critical to customer conversion rates should see to it that they don‘t overestimate the patience of some customers and underestimate the search engine perspective on load speed. And given that Google‘s PageSpeed enables one to identify several areas requiring improvement on some not exactly streamlined online print provider websites, I shall once again be tackling the subject of mobile compatibility of German online print providers in the new year.