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Since last year, the median load time for home pages of top North American retail sites (the Alexa Retail 2000) has risen 9% from 5.94 to 6.5, finds Strangeloop Networks [download page] in a September 2012 report. While that figure was for first-time page views (and uses Internet Explorer 9 to replicate a typical end-user experience), repeat page view load times have also risen, up 15% from 1.83 to 2.16 seconds. This despite the expectation that faster browsers, networks, and devices enable a faster online experience.

The top 100 sites show even worse performance. At 7.14 seconds, the median load time for the Alexa Retail 100 is 10% longer for first time visitors than it was in 2011. Repeat views are 12% longer, going from 1.96 to 2.21 seconds.

A high percentage of sites do not use core performance best practices (only 30% use compression), despite possible improvements of up to 52% in start render time.

More Page Elements Contribute to Longer Load Times

Strangeloop Networks’ “State of the Union: E-commerce Page Speed and Web Performance Fall 2012” suggests that part of the reason for the top 100’s slower speed relative to the Alexa 2000 is a greater amount of page elements, finding that the median top-ranked site has 34% more resource requests than does the median Alexa 2000 site (100 vs. 77). Images and third-party scripts comprise the bulk of these requests.

The median number of resource requests for an Alexa 2000 page has increased 5%, from 73 in late 2011. Each such request can add 20 to 50 milliseconds for desktop browsers and up to a full second on a mobile browser.

Load times are especially critical to the mobile shopping experience and a key reason customers abandon retail sites. Some 88% of mobile shoppers rated load time as important or very important to their shopping experience, found Limelight Networks in November 2011. And they will punish the retailer for a bad shopping experience: 20% of mobile shoppers reported completing their research and/or purchases but vowing to never return to the site in the future if they could avoid it, while another 18% reported abandoning the site and seeking alternative brands using their devices.

IE 10 Top-Performing Browser

Meanwhile, further results from the Strangeloop Networks study suggests that Internet Explorer 10 is the fastest browser. At 6.392 seconds for a first-time page view, Internet Explorer 10 outperformed Firefox 13 and Chrome 10 (6.395 and 6.906 seconds, respectively). For repeat views, IE10 loaded in 1.870 seconds, followed by Chrome (1.961 seconds) and Firefox (1.990 seconds).

About The Data: Tests were conducted using a tool called WebPagetest, an open-source project primarily developed and supported by Google. Researchers tested the home page of every site in the Alexa Retail 2000 three times. Tests were conducted over a three-week period, from July 10 to August 1 2012, using Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9 and 10; Firefox 13; and Chrome 30.

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