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Book sellers’ websites have worst response times among retailers

Despite the mighty Amazon breathing down their necks the three slowest performing websites out of the 500 UK retailers’ sites tested during Q3 were three major online booksellers, according to automated website testing firm Sitemorse.


Book sellers’ websites have worst response times among retailers

Despite the mighty Amazon breathing down their necks the three slowest performing websites out of the 500 UK retailers’ sites tested during Q3 were three major online booksellers, according to automated website testing firm Sitemorse.

By Glynn Davis

The slowest sites were Waterstone’s, Foyles and British Bookshops & Stationers that came top in the table of the slowest download speeds as measured by Sitemorse that automatically tests the first 125 pages of a website on various performance criteria.

The ranked table is created from taking the slowest 10 response times from the 125 pages tested and calculating the average across these pages. As the worst performer, Waterstone’s average was a shocking 69.8 seconds, followed by Foyles with 61.4 seconds and British Bookshops and Stationers with 59.1 seconds.

Moving down the table it takes until 23rd place before the average is below 10 seconds and 59th place before it is below four seconds. This poor level of performance surprises Lawrence Shaw, chief executive of Sitemorse, who says: “There continues to be a focus on increasing conversion rates and retailers keep adding new things to their websites like analytics but if customers are hitting poor performing pages then they will not hand around.”

The potential for losing customers is huge when you consider just how long even a four second wait is for a page to download, according to Shaw, who believes maximising the online experience for customers realistically requires response times to be less than 0.75 seconds. Of the total 500 sites tested only 206 achieved this benchmark – this is over 90 times fastest than Waterstone’s.

Shaw cites the two key problems as: the current way that retailers test for speed of response; and executives at retailers being given inaccurate information by technology vendors. On the first issue, Shaw believes merchants are too reliant on using ‘journey testing’ that gives the response times from only a number of perceived journeys by shoppers on the site. These include key journeys that customers are believed to take. He suggests this gives only a partial picture.

“They have been lulled into a false sense of security by their high-end journey testing tools and they should instead take a more holistic view of their sites. Just looking at specific journeys is a mistake as these will likely be optimised perfectly.”

Secondly, he suggests retail executives are being fed information - by the providers of their e-commerce and multi-channel technology - that they want to hear. “They are told that everything is going fine, when often it is not as shown by these performance tables of response times,” says Shaw.

This might well be the case at HMV Group – parent company of Waterstone’s – who other site HMV also performed very badly in the testing, coming in at number seven in the table with an average of 20.6 seconds across its 10 slowest pages.

The group has performed consistently poorly in the ranked table that Sitemorse creates each quarter to measure performance across a raft of criteria, including average response times. “Who is telling HMV [management] that its website performance is good?” asks Shaw.

HMV is not alone, as it is joined at the top end of this hall-of-shame table by many other big name retailers including Argos, Halfords,, Empire Direct, eBuyer and Morrison’s.

NameAvg slowest rsp time (secs)
W&G Foyle61.4
British Bookshops & Stationers59.1
Lloyds Pharmacy37.7
Jacques Vert22
Hughes Electrical20.4
Wm Morrison Supermarkets17.2
Halfords Group14.3
Empire Direct11.3
Pixmania UK10.4
Rohan Designs10
Wilkinson Plus9.1
Whittard of Chelsea8.4
Jaeger Group7.4
Richer Sounds7.3
Alexon Group7.1
M & Co6.8
Past Times6.7
Clifford James6.3
WJ Daniel & Co6.1
PC World5.5
The Range5.4
WJ Aldiss5.4
Hammicks Bookshops5.1
Foot Locker UK5
Slater Menswear4.8
O2 UK4.8
Apollo 20004.4
Harveys Furniture4.2
Scats Countrystores4.1

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