Fast load times are vital for every website, but the importance of speed is probably most obvious in eCommerce stores. Slow load times frustrate customers and lead to fewer sales at the end of the day – so if you’re selling online, time is literally money.
The good news is, there are plenty of simple tweaks that you can make at home to improve your website’s speed. I’ll break down the best tips below. But first, let’s take a look at the damage slow load times can do to bounce rates, sales, and customer loyalty, and compare the differences between mobile and desktop speed.
How Does Site Speed Impact eCommerce?
Take this hypothetical: if you’re running an eCommerce site that makes $100,000 per day, a one-second page delay could cost you twenty-five times that amount annually in lost sales! And to use a real-world example, $18 billion is lost annually due to abandoned shopping carts alone.
So, before we think about improving slow site speed, let’s take a quick survey of the damage it causes in different areas.
1. Site Speed and Bounce Rates
40% of consumers won’t wait more than three seconds before abandoning a website. Regarding the site speed improvement, every second count: on average, pages that load within two seconds have a 9% bounce rate, while pages that load within five seconds have a 38% bounce rate.
Check out the difference that just one second can make on bounce rates below:
So, we know that slow load times mean high bounce rates. But why do high bounce rates matter for eCommerce websites? The short answer: because users spend more time on a website when the site’s pages load faster. On average, users experiencing a page load time of two seconds will visit 8.9 pages, while those with a load time of eight seconds will visit just 3.3 pages.
2. Site Speed and Sales
The bounce rate is just one of many factors affected by website speed. Sales is another factor, and the financial impacts of slow speed are pretty difficult to ignore.
No competitive business is immune to the effects that slow loading times can have on revenue. Even large, international companies have to confront the negative effects of slow speeds on eCommerce sales:
… and just only one percent of e-retailers in the UK had mobile page load speeds that achieved an excellent Google rating in 2018 – which is actually a two percent drop from 2017.
As I mentioned earlier, in the distinction between “slow” and “fast,” every second count. It only takes a one-second delay in site speed to:
- Reduce page views by 11%.
- Reduce conversions by 7%.
- Decrease customer satisfaction by 16%.
Even a website that’s only slightly slower than its competition is dangerous because customers remember online loading times as being 35% longer than they actually are.
3. Mobile vs. Desktop Speed
It’s no secret that pages take longer to load on mobile than on desktop. One study has even found that, on average, mobile pages take over twice as long to load compared to desktop pages.
That said, it’s important to optimize mobile page speeds because mobile is still the preferred method of browsing:
- Mobile minutes accounted for 77% of online time in the US in 2019.
- The worldwide mobile population amounted to 4 billion unique users in 2019.
- Mobile internet traffic makes up 50.44% of total online traffic.
- 96% of US citizens own mobile devices.
- Of these, 81% own smartphones.
- About a quarter of adults in the US say they are “almost constantly” online.
There’s no getting around the importance of mobile speed for eCommerce sites: 55% of all time spent on retail websites occurs on a mobile device. And while mobile speed optimization is important for every business, some industries are more phone-forward than others:
But how exactly does mobile speed compare to desktop speed? Check out this breakdown, based on a 2018 study of web traffic in the US:
46% of people say that waiting for pages to load is what they dislike most about browsing on mobile, and 73% of mobile users say they have encountered websites that take too long to load. But despite the higher bounce rates and slower load times that accompany mobile browsing, users still have high expectations:
- 85% of mobile users expect pages to load as fast or faster than they do on the desktop.
- 64% of smartphone users expect pages to load in under four seconds.
- 74% of American mobile users would abandon mobile sites that don’t load within five seconds.
So, we can tell that mobile users’ expectations for page speed are high. But what problems should we actually be trying to avoid?
Here are some specific issues, based on 60% of mobile internet users who say they’ve encountered at least one problem while browsing within the last 12 months. Of those users:
- 73% encountered a website that was too slow to load.
- 51% encountered a website that crashed, froze, or had received an error.
- 48% encountered a website that had difficult-to-read formatting.
- 45% encountered a website that didn’t function as expected.
- 38% encountered a website that wasn’t available.
To help fix these issues, some website owners use Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), a project rolled out by Google and Twitter that allows pages to load faster using a stripped-down version of HTML.
4. Site Speed and Customer Loyalty
Dissatisfied customers can quickly become disloyal customers, too. 79% of shoppers who have a dissatisfying experience are less likely to buy from the same site again, while 64% would purchase from a different online store altogether.
That’s not all – check out the other impacts that slow speed can have on customer loyalty:
- If they have to wait for a page to load, 14% of customers will begin shopping on another site.
- If pages are too slow, 18% of shoppers will abandon their cart.
- 46% of online buyers say checkout speed is the #1 factor determining whether they will return to a site.
- 46% of users don’t revisit poorly performing websites.
Whether it’s bounce rate, sales, or customer loyalty, the damaging impact of slow speeds on both mobile and desktop eCommerce performance is undeniable. But the good news is, even the smallest improvement can make a huge difference – and we’re talking tenths of a second here:
In that spirit, let’s explore the improvements that can have a real impact on site speed.
How to Improve eCommerce Website Speed
The first step to speeding up your own site is identifying potential issues affecting its speed. Certain factors, like a customer’s internet connection, are out of your control. But the good news is, most issues impacting load time are factors that can be fixed on your end. Below, I’ll explain some of the best steps you can take to speed up your site.
1. Optimize Images
The larger your file sizes are, and the more files you have on a page, the longer it will take for the page to load. On average, images alone make up 21% of a webpage’s weight, so that any size-reduction can help.
To optimize an image for better page speed, you need to find a happy medium between the best image quality and smallest file size. Before you upload any image to your website, you’ll want to make sure that it’s compressed and converted to the best file format (such as PNG, JPEG, or GIF).
This might sound a little intense, but don’t worry – you won’t have to get into any technical weeds yourself! There’s no shortage of free tools out there that will compress and convert images with just a few clicks on your end.
2. Optimize Code
“Minifying” your code means compressing it to the smallest size that won’t affect its operation, and it can massively improve page speed. Again, you don’t need to be a tech whiz to accomplish this – there are plenty of tools available to help. Just make sure to choose a tool that’s compatible with your page structure or programming language.
3. Optimize Databases
All of your site’s textual and encrypted data (like posts, comments, and pages) is typically stored in a database – but over time, this can get crowded with some data that you don’t need. This includes spam comments, post drafts, and revisions, and trashed posts or pages.
Clearing your database of these items will make it smaller and easier for web hosting servers to fetch requested content quickly.
4. Choose Plugins Wisely
Plugins are easy-to-install add-ons that bring extra functionality to a website. There are seemingly countless plugins available, providing everything from marketing insights to increased security. The drawback is that using too many plugins at once will overwhelm your server – so it pays to be selective about the number of plugins you use.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can actually download a plugin specifically built for improving page speed. This may seem counterintuitive, but I think it’s the kind of useful plugin that’s worth making space for, and there are a few different speed-specific plugins to choose from.
For example, if you’re running your site with WordPress, you can browse different plugins that help with image optimization, page caching, or disabling unneeded files, depending on which area is the most problematic for your site.
5. Use an Up-To-Date Browser
Older versions of web browsers can easily become incompatible with newer assets and code on your pages, so it’s best to routinely check that you’re using the most recent version of your chosen browser. In some cases, you can also set your browser to update automatically so that you don’t miss any changes.
6. Choose the Right Hosting Plan and Provider
Slow load times could be a sign that your website has outgrown its hosting plan. For example, a small website may only need a shared hosting plan (where multiple sites “share” space on one server), while a larger site could upgrade to a VPS hosting plan (where more server space is dedicated to each site). More server space means more room to accommodate files, media, and traffic.
But regardless of which hosting plan you choose, you’ll want to make sure your hosting provider has a high uptime guarantee. Uptime guarantees signify the amount of time that a website will be accessible to visitors with no issues.
A 100% uptime guarantee is impossible, but you’ll want to choose a provider with a minimum guarantee of 99.90%, and ideally higher. Uptime is similar to load speed in that tenths of a second actually count for a lot.
For example, the difference between 99.96% uptime and 99.98% uptime is about one hour and forty-five minutes less downtime per year.
7. Use a CDN
A CDN, or content delivery network, is a network of multiple servers in different geographic locations. In this model, the servers work together to deliver your content faster, so you don’t have to rely on a single server to deliver your content to users all over the world.
CDNs can distribute bandwidth across multiple servers, instead of leaving one server to handle all of a site’s traffic – which means your site will be able to handle more bandwidth without slowing down.
Optimizing Ecommerce Speed: Final Thoughts
For e-retailers, the price of slow load time is paid in both revenue and customer satisfaction. It’s important to have a speedy site on both mobile and desktop devices to keep bounce rates low, income high, and customers returning.
There are easy, DIY ways to improve your eCommerce site load speed, and plenty of tools available to help. Whether it’s a free image compressor or a global CDN, there are all kinds of ways to start making positive changes to your own website.