Sluggish e-retailers avoid downtime during crucial sales period

UK e-retailers experienced slow download speeds during the December and January sales period.

Recent in-house performance data showed that the UK’s top 50 e-retailers avoided serious outages between 25 December 2010 and 12 January 2011, despite visitors experiencing website download speeds in excess of 10 seconds.

On Christmas Day – when many of the largest sales began online – the average downtime for e-retailers was less than one minute (0.03 per cent), while on Boxing Day the top 50 experienced an average of just over one minute (0.08 per cent). The average downtime for the test group between 25 December 2010 and 12 January 2011 was just 35 minutes (0.13 per cent).

The average download speed for e-retailers during the research period was in excess of 10 seconds (10.92 sec) – above many retailers’ target eight-second threshold. Average download speeds on Christmas Day (10.92 sec) and Boxing Day (10.98 sec), were consistent with the overall average for the sales period.

Prior to periods such as the January sales, in which websites experience high user volumes, e-retailers need to prepare thoroughly to avoid the outages. These latest results suggest that e-retailers are improving their preparations in terms of load testing, with only a handful of companies experiencing periods of downtime.

However, slow performance can also impact sales and a company’s reputation, as consumers choose rival e-retailers when their shopping experience is disrupted. A ten second wait for pages to load is far from ideal. E-retailers need to ensure a seamless user experience, especially during the most profitable sales period of the year in December and January.

Bob Dowson is responsible for the operational management and development of NCC Group's Performance and Load Testing business. Bob joined the company in 2002 from Forrester Research.