It doesn’t matter how much you invest in your ecommerce strategy if your site’s hosting provider isn’t up to the job. Roland Breadner, Head of Retail at Peer 1, talks to Figaro Digital about speed, demand, UX and the bottom line
According to a survey of 300 ecommerce decision-makers in the US, UK and Canada conducted by infrastructure and cloud hosting company Peer 1 Hosting, 76 per cent of those questioned believe that customer perception of their brand is directly affected by the quality of user experience.
No surprise there, you might think. Rapid load times and easy navigation aren’t just desirable in their own right. They impact on SEO, mitigate against basket abandonment and, combined with relevant, engaging content, help make your ecommerce site the sort of place users want to visit. Peer 1 also found that 33 per cent of those surveyed plan to invest significantly in the overall design of their ecommerce sites this year and that 29 per cent plan to improve their UX. The message is clear: when it comes to ecommerce, experience matters. What specific issues, then, are ecommerce marketers running up against and what can they do to improve their websites’ efficiency?
Buy now or bye now
“Performance is always an issue,” says Roland Breadner, Head of Retail at Peer 1. “That includes page load times and how long it takes your site to collect images. These are things that can have a big effect on your bounce rates. And once a user has made a transaction on an ecommerce site, there’s the question of how quickly that transaction goes through. If your site’s busy when someone hits the ‘buy now’ button, the likelihood is they’ll leave and go somewhere else.”
There are a number of hosting-related reasons, explains Breadner, why ecommerce sites might not be up to speed. “The first is if the site is very busy and there’s not sufficient infrastructure or provision for traffic. The second is if you’re looking at a site that’s hosted some distance away. This is something we see more and more, particularly with UK brands as they go international.”
That’s an issue Peer 1 are able to navigate with their 10 Gbps FastFiber Network and a team of experts unafraid, the company says, to innovate or disrupt in order to harness the power of the net.
Just as important as speed, says Breadner, is being aware of when surges in site usage are likely to occur – and to plan for them. For most of us, hosting is associated with data security and disaster recovery. Does Breadner think marketers overlook the impact hosting can have on site speed, usability and consequently conversion?
In answering that, he points to the experience of Peer 1’s client Seatwave. The ticketing market is a sector where brand loyalty is limited. Users want to make sure they’ll get to the gig; they’re unlikely to engage deeply with the ticket vendor. That means site and transaction speed are vital. Seatwave, says Breadner, measure the speed of their ecommerce sites and plan for anticipated surges in demand or activity. These are both areas in which hosting has a pivotal role to play. Are there any quick fixes, though, for marketers who want to improve their site’s speed right away?
“The straightforward answer is to see whether you can offload things like images from your webservers,” says Breadner. “But you also need to make sure, while you’re developing your site, that the development team are working hand-in-hand with your hosting company. Where we’ve been successful with our own customers, I think, is in ensuring there’s no segmentation between the development side and the hosting. You’ve got to work collaboratively to get the best out of both.”
No such thing as downtime
Peer 1’s ecommerce survey looked in particular detail at the holiday booking industry. This, explains Breadner, is a sector where some of the stress-points in ecommerce are most evident.
“For a lot of our ecommerce customers in the travel industry, the market is very seasonal. Most consumers are looking to book their holidays in January or February; that’s when the market is most competitive and when your infrastructure needs to be most prepared, especially if you’re running offers to get the sales figures up. If you’re using something like Groupon, you really need to make sure your site infrastructure can cope. There’s a lot that a hosting company can do in that context by working collaboratively with ecommerce sites so you can plan for those peaks in usage. The speed of your site will also have an impact on SEO ratings. Everything is intrinsically linked now and your hosting company needs to know how to deal with that.”
Every interaction matters
A further finding of Peer 1’s survey focused on a related but broader issue. An important objective for ecommerce marketers in 2014, the survey found, is website customisation that rivals the in-store shopping experience. Underpinning that is a new focus on personalisation designed to break down the boundaries between on and offline shopping. This allows retailers to develop closer relationships with consumers and develop new revenue streams. What advice does Breadner have for brands and marketers seeking the holy grail of a fully customised, personalised ecommerce experience?
“The best websites,” he says, “are those that users visit simply to browse. A couple of examples would be Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter. Effectively those are style magazines online. They sell products, but they also carry great content. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from those sorts of sites.”
Robert Miggins, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Peer 1 agrees. “Ecommerce brands around the world are realising the impact of delivering a truly personalised experience for their customers and are investing in making their websites more user-centric,” he says. “Not only does a high quality ecommerce experience boost a brand’s reputation but, as our research shows, it has a huge impact on website conversions and, ultimately, the bottom line. With more and more transactions happening online, e-retailers are likely to continue investing heavily in making every online interaction matter.”
So, as the drive towards a more user-centric approach gains momentum, technology needs to match the increasingly grand ambitions of brands. Underpinning that is a responsive, reliable and secure hosting experience that ensures consumers get what they want from your site – and then come back to you for more.
Article by Jon Fortgang