I hate fighting crowds, so I’m one of those people who does as much holiday shopping as possible online. But on days when bargains were the hottest, trying to do so with my iPhone was an exercise in frustration. And I was hardly alone. The huge spike in traffic on Cyber Monday, the online world’s answer to Black Friday, doubled the load time of the average mobile site, according to Keynote, a mobile and website cloud testing and monitoring company.
Some of the waits were so long it’s hard to believe that shoppers wouldn’t simply give up. Newegg, for instance, a popular site that features good deals on consumer electronics, took an excruciating 20.54 seconds to load. That load time was the worst of 30 major sites tracked by Keystone, but the overall performance of other sites was worse. CVS.com, the pharmacy giant’s Web site, was much faster to load at 13.88 seconds, but nearly 5 percent of the requested pages never loaded. (See reports for all 30 sites.) Keynote tested wtih smartphones, but not tablets.
“It appears many leading retailers have failed to do the rigorous testing mobile sites require in order to accommodate increasing numbers of mobile holiday shoppers each year,” says Aaron Rudger, mobile and Web performance manager at Keynote.
That’s hardly a surprise and is all the more annoying because many of these slowpoke sites are heavily promoted by their owners, and shoppers are encouraged to go there with various discounts and other incentives.
There’s another lesson here as well. The technology/shopping/retail complex never tires of singing the praises of mobile. All of those people have a vested interested in getting you to shop online, but many are resistant to allocating the money and resources it takes to build a really efficient mobile site. Fortunately, the companies that mess up are the ones that suffer; not being able to buy new hiking shoes on LLbean.com at the exact moment you want them is annoying, but not exactly a tragedy.
But many of those same folks, not to mention many gullible members of the technology press and blogosphere, are pushing other mobile applications that may not really be ready for prime time, such as mobile payments using a smartphone. And when those applications have a bad day, it will be a lot more serious.
I’m not saying that mobile payment technology that will never succeed; I’m pretty sure it will – eventually. But as the technology emerges, there are going to be massive screwups, some of which will empty bank accounts and load up credit cards with bogus charges.
But let’s end on a happier note. Keynote found that desktop-oriented sites, unlike their mobile cousins, performed quite well over the holiday.
“The performance of leading retailers on Keynote’s desktop retail indices revealed that most of the sites were prepared quite well for heavy traffic and the huge number of transactions they were expected to handle successfully over the last four days,” says Kennote’s Rudger. There were exceptions, though; Foot Locker, for example, was effectively down for nearly an hour on Monday, according to Keynote.
That’s a huge improvement over reports from just a few years ago, when major sites simply crashed under the onslaught of the holiday buyers. Mobile will get there as well, but until it does, you’ll simply have to be patient.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.