Online shoppers crave speed, value

Online retailers, take note: If your e-commerce site doesn't load within four seconds, you risk losing one-third of your would-be customers.

That nugget of information comes just in time for the busy holiday shopping season from a study titled "Retail Web Site Performance," conducted by JupiterResearch and sponsored by Akamai. The research company assessed the online-shopping habits of 1,058 shoppers.

Akamai, by the way, provides solutions for accelerating content and business processes online. Since it sponsored the research, it's not surprising that the report conclusions fixate on Web site performance. Still, the numbers cover various aspects of retail Web site performance and customer retention, so the report is well worth studying if you're an online merchant gearing up for holiday sales.

While site response time is clearly important to Web shoppers, the study also reiterates the import of easy navigation, usability, and security. When asked what influenced their decision to return to a retail Web site, the No. 1 response, listed by 65% of participants, was "Site is easy to navigate." The No. 2 response, for 62% of all respondents, was "Assurances of information security" (no surprise, given the rise in data leaks we've seen of late).

Easy registration, check-in, and check-out (with arguably tie into overall transaction time) were highly important to 54% of the respondents; pictures and videos of product details proved necessary for 53%.

Moreover, 46% of online shoppers said they want a rapid checkout process, and 40% seek quick page loading.

The survey also asked users what factors made them feel dissatisfied with an online shopping experience -- or worse yet, abandon a transaction altogether.

Unappealing shipping and pricing issues were the No. 1 culprit for both groups. A full 36% of respondents said they backed out of buying something midway due to high product or shipping costs. Another 44% were dissatisfied by those factors, even though they made the purchase. (I envision a user looking at the final purchase screen, seeing the total price with shipping and tax thrown in, and either grudgingly clicking to complete the purchase -- or closing the browser window in disgust. I've done both.)

A significant percentage of users, 24%, canceled transactions because they didn't want to register with a site; another 20% of them said the site was asking for too much information.

Slow site performance wasn't as big a cause for users aborting purchases (18%) as it was for leaving them with a bad taste in their mouths afterward (33%).

So what happens if an online shopper has an unpleasant online shopping experience? According to the study, "64% percent of dissatisfied online shoppers indicated they were less likely to visit the online retailer in the future, while 62% would be less likely to buy from the site again. Forty-eight percent went so far as to say they would simply make their intended purchases from an online competitor," the report says.

The report is available for free download at

My take-away from the report is pretty clear: Retail Web sites don't need superfluous bells and whistles that just make them perform slowly or that impede navigation. Users want to log in, find what they need via a decent search tool and reasonable product images, toss that stuff in the cart, see what the total price will be -- with taxes and shipping -- before entering their credit card and shipping information, then quickly and securely pay and go.

If you want me to spend extra time registering and logging in before you let me make a purchase, you'd best give me some incentive; I have enough login names and passwords as it is. How about you prove to me that your site truly is worth using and that you'll complete my order to my satisfaction before making me decide that I want to be a repeat customer and set up an account?

We've looked at this question before, but what has frustrated you most when shopping online? Or, what do you like best about your online-shopping destinations of choice?