Which leading UK retailer has the best ecommerce back-to-school report?

Date: 1st October 2015
Author: Deri Jones

Study finds: availability poor and delivery speeds could do better

Back to school

In the topsy-turvy world of retail, just as families the length and breadth of the country were enjoying their well-earned summer break, clothing suppliers were frantically ramping up their preparations to feed the back-to-school buying frenzy that marks August as a profitable online opportunity for uniform stockists.

But with the buying window limited by holiday time on the one side and the first day of term on the other, it was crucial that retailers optimised the online experience by ensuring that shoppers had quick and easy access to the products they needed, and that the checkout process could be navigated without a hitch. It goes without saying that because of the time pressures – and the number of retailers supplying the market – customers who encounter even minor frustrations during the browsing and buying process are less likely to be patient and more inclined to switch to another website to acquire their purchases.

 Putting retailers through their paces

With this in mind, SciVisum recently performed a survey on a number of leading British retailers, including Tesco, Next, Littlewoods, Very, Asda, Debenhams, John Lewis, Matalan and M&S, to see whether the online back-to-school buying experience was up to scratch. During August, we monitored hundreds of customer journeys for polo shirts and tops, including the steps taken to find the correct section for school uniforms, pick the items in question and add them to the basket.

We repeated this exercise every five minutes throughout the month, measuring availability (time without errors), speed and consistency, as well as any errors that might prevent a customer from completing their journey. We also measured the time taken for each step of the journey. Although monitoring was maintained round the clock, we only analysed journeys between 8am and 11pm to eliminate any routine maintenance periods.

Some surprising results

The results were fascinating – you can see the full report, including who got an A* and who earned detention, here. Interestingly, journey delivery times increased steadily during the course of the month, indicating an increase in traffic and an inability to maintain the same speed as at off-peak times.

In general, individual page delivery times weren’t bad, averaging 2.9 seconds across all sites for the duration of the survey. However, the ‘speed’ gap between the best and worst performing sites was substantial – the worst site being more than five times slower (23.42 seconds) than the fastest (4.11 seconds) for the average journey time.


By contrast, availability was poor, with only two out of the nine sites achieving over 99% average availability over the period, and, in one case, as low as 89%. While these may seem like high percentages, if a site is unavailable for a small fraction of the time, it can lead to significant numbers of lost sales opportunities.

Picking apart the problems

This dynamic monitoring approach identified lots of problem areas, including missing user reviews, blank page content and absent colour swatches – usually resulting from cache or CDN issues. But we also uncovered some more fundamental problems that were causing ongoing glitches.

For instance, one retailer’s website supported a huge number of third-party components (over 280!), mainly for advertising purposes, as well as tracking components from Russia’s largest search engine. Unfortunately, many of these components were broken and adversely impacted journey times. Another website was enabling customers to add out-of-stock items to their cart – very frustrating for end users who would probably prefer to be informed of stock availability before committing to purchase.

Add to basket error

Give the customer the experience they deserve

To deliver great website performance, you need an ongoing process to continuously test user journeys from the customer down and ensure performance is managed. We recommend load-testing well in advance of busy periods so you’ll be confident your website can support peak traffic. Keep page components to a minimum and think in terms of optimising whole customer journeys, rather than addressing issues on a page-by-page basis, as what may improve performance for a single page won’t necessarily enhance performance across an entire journey.

Web performance is no longer the sole domain of the tech team. Bad performance equals reduced conversion rates and damages brand perception, which makes it more important than ever to share information at every level. Using a high-touch monitoring service, like SciVisum, makes it possible to manage the complexities of delivering a website across multiple devices, so you can focus on business development instead of trouble-shooting performance problems.

back-to-school-ecommerce-surveyFind out more by reading our complete report here.

Download survey report




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