New findings: Ecommerce sites are 9% slower than in 2011

Two years ago, when Strangeloop started tracking the load times of 2,000 top North American ecommerce sites, we had a hunch we’d spot some interesting trends over time. We did not expect, however, to see that pages are continuing to get slower rather than faster. Yet according to the Fall 2012 release of our quarterly Ecommerce Page Speed and Web Performance State of the Union, which came out today, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Not only are pages slower, they’re dramatically slower. Since November 2011, when we last tested these sites, the median home page has taken a 9% performance hit, with load time increasing from 5.94 seconds to 6.5 seconds. This flies in the face of conventional belief that, thanks to faster browsers, networks, and devices, the average end user is enjoying a premium online experience. This is clearly not the case. As user expectations continue to grow, the gap between expectations and reality continues to widen.

Ecommerce Page Speed and Web Performance State of the Union [Fall 2012]

These graphics (higher res version here) illustrate a few of our  findings. I encourage you to download the report to read the rest. Without giving it all away, here are a few highlights:

  • Internet Explorer 10 served pages faster than other browsers, most notably 8% faster than Chrome 20. We tested each page across a number of browsers, including the latest versions of IE, Chrome, and Firefox. It’s important to bear in mind that these were simple tests that didn’t take into account the many nuances of browser performance (which is discussed further in the report), but we considered these results interesting enough to share.
  • Top sites are 10% slower than the pack as a whole. While the median site took 6.5 seconds to load, we saw even poorer results when we looked at the top 100 sites (ranked by revenue and profitability), with the median Alexa 100 home page having a load time of 7.14 seconds. Check out the report for our thoughts on this.
  • Many sites are still not following core performance best practices. We found that 30% of sites tested did not use compression, and 12% did not use keep-alives. As I’ve talked about elsewhere, these two fairly simple techniques can yield big results, including up to 52% improvement in start render time.

Why you should care about these findings

To my knowledge, Strangeloop’s state of the union reports (which we’re now releasing on a quarterly basis) are the only ongoing surveys that measure performance from the perspective of real users. By using WebPagetest, we can simulate performance across browsers and realistic latencies, and get a real-world look at how websites actually behave. It’s easy for site owners to fall into the trap of thinking that their sites are fast for everyone, because site owners are typically seeing benchmark tests run out of datacenters.

I want to emphasize that reports like this one are not a substitute for the real user monitoring you should be performing on your site on an ongoing basis. Instead, consider it a snapshot that we can collectively hold up as a mirror of big-picture ecommerce performance.

As always, I welcome your feedback and questions.

Download the report: State of the Union: Ecommerce Page Speed and Website Performance [Fall 2012]

Download a high-res version of the infographics above (and feel free to re-post): Poster: Ecommerce Page Speed and Website Performance [Fall 2012]

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