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The Top 5 Questions to Ask Yourself After Cyber Monday

Part 1 of a 2-Part Blog Series

The peak holiday online shopping season is in full-force now. Most eCommerce merchants spent months preparing their sites for an onslaught of the web traffic they both hope for - and fear, depending on their role in the organization. If you are in business management (i.e., CIO, CMO or VP of Ecommerce) you'll want to encourage as much traffic as possible to your online store while avoiding performance or security problems.

Assuming everything goes off without a hitch, what will you learn, (particularly from the insights gained) from shoppers' experiences that can be extremely useful to your retail business? Ask yourself the following critical questions:

  1. How did shoppers perceive my eCommerce and/or mCommerce site(s)?
  2. Were they pleased with the aesthetics?
  3. Were they satisfied with the responsiveness of my site(s)? Or did their sessions feel slow?
  4. Did the site(s) earn as much revenue as they could have?
  5. Did the sites leak/lose revenue for some reason? And if they did, how would you know?
Measuring and quantifying the net impact as a result of shoppers' experiences is a fiercely debated topic. Some merchants prefer to count complaints; some glean feedback from pop-up surveys. But in the end, what really matters is the amount of revenue generated by the retail site(s). If shopper experiences are optimal in combination with other session-impacting factors, the site will return good sales (revenue) metrics. If shoppers' experiences are poor (even if everything else is good) sales metrics will be down. Clearly, a positive shopper experience is key to revenue.

Revenue: quantify the currency-value of shoppers' online experience

Using the right data analytics, shopper experience can be quantified in terms of revenue earned (or lost). It's done so by defining the scope of their experience, something within merchants' control -- and measuring how that scope impacted revenue. Merchants can look at their online and mobile shopping sites response times.

Shoppers' perceptions of online and/or mobile aesthetics have an impact on the decision to checkout

Aesthetics can be interesting to measure because every shopper is different and each has a differing opinion. Fortunately, aesthetics are easily measured via rigorous multivariate testing. (That is how we know that many shoppers respond best to orange buttons, over blue, red, yellow, black, etc.!)

We also know that shoppers like better, richer, higher resolution graphics on shopping sites, especially product detail images. It's important to note, however, that the larger the graphic file, the longer it will take to transfer to individual shopper's browsers. If it takes too long to render, customers are typically unhappy. It's well-settled that there are diminishing returns to making given web pages too rich.

One popular way to mitigate the impact that large graphic files have on customers is to first present a low-resolution file to the visiting customer, and then quickly replace it with a higher resolution file after loading is complete. If the other assets of an image load quickly (and the switch is fast enough) customers may not notice. However, if the switch is slow, they may think the page is ugly - and risk leaving before the high-resolution image has been loaded. As an example, on one site we worked with, it took 4-5 seconds for the image swap to occur. Customers were left looking at a grainy, low-resolution picture for 4-5 seconds and suddenly did not like the product any longer. In our experience, changing the process of swapping images for ones that performed the switch in .25 seconds led to increased conversion rates of over 40%.

Of course, the best way to determine the balance between rich pages and those less rich is to measure their affect on site revenue metrics, like conversion rate, average order value, average revenue per visitor and site stickiness - the number of pages and duration of the session.

Were visitors pleased with the responsiveness of the site? Did it feel slow to them? Did it feel slow to you?

As Albert Einstein might've said, "speed is relative." What's fast for one person may be slow for another, especially for this author, to whom everything is too slow. (My motto from my days at Duke is "instantaneous is still too slow.") Even if a web site seems very fast to you, it may not be so to your visitors. Browsers cache things locally. Also, you may be geographically closer to the site's datacenter. (For grins, press CTRL-F5 on a Windows browser like Firefox or Chrome, and see how fast the page load this time. Surprised?)

Synthetic monitoring has its place when measuring how fast a page loads; however these synthetic visitors are just that--synthetic, robotic - and not real. They are useful from an operational point of view, but tell merchants nothing about the customer experience or the effect they have on merchant site revenue metrics. The only measurements that really count are the ones that come from your customer's browsers, whether they are from a desktop/laptop, mobile phone or tablet. An iPhone 6, Nexus 10 and iPad all have more horsepower than a desktop manufactured a few years ago. However, they still can appear slow to your customer! Knowing all of this, it comes down to what I call "perceived response time", or how fast shoppers felt that a given web page loaded.

About Blue Triangle Technologies: The Company equips online and mobile retailers with the correlation of site abandonment rates and actual dollars lost. By analyzing variations in customer behavior with site performance, and comparing them to actual sales revenue, Blue Triangle Technologies provides critical insight into how they impact Average Sale Size and Conversions for individual eCommerce site buying events. For more information, visit www.bluetriangletech.com.

Donald Foss is the CEO Blue Triangle Technologies, Makers of eRevenueView and Akamai Partner