Faster computers and impatient consumers expecting rapid download speeds compel online merchants to optimize storefront performance. Even a several-seconds download can be too slow for the millions of web shoppers who are ready to buy but intolerant of slow page loads. As marketers demand increasingly rich presentations with more images and consumer interaction, retailers are challenged to accelerate their sites’ front-end user experience.
Wine.com overcame these challenges with a front-end site optimization tool that cut landing page load times to just two seconds and effected improvements of up to 45%. “A four-second download once was acceptable but today is far too slow, given advancements in computer technology and growing consumer expectations,’” stated Geoffrey Smalling, CTO of Wine.com. “Two seconds was an ambitious goal but we had to reach it or lose potential customers, especially first-time visitors.”
In its effort to increase page speed, Wine.com also must overcome the challenge of managing 120-plus objects per page. “All those images and activity take time to transfer over the network,” Smalling reported. “In addition, our targeted two-second threshold embraces several different browsers. Internet Explorer is no longer king; today we’re dealing with Chrome, Firefox and Safari as well.”
Page download speed also is affected at Wine.com by the myriad and ever-changing state laws regarding wine shipments over state lines. To address these complex legal stipulations, the site must first scan the legal ramifications of a sender’s receiving state, connect its nationwide shoppers seamlessly to the page correlating to their home state’s shipping laws, then download the tailored Wine.com selling proposition ― all within the two-second load goal.
“Admittedly, page performance was not always top of mind here, since we’re a small company with a lean workforce facing lots of demands,” said Smalling. “The promise of a front-end optimization tool like the one we selected from Strangeloop Networks is that we don’t have to think about it ― the optimization is done for us. That promise has included a 45% improvement in speed on our New York homepage, 39% on Virginia’s and 35% on the Los Angeles page.”
Smalling noted that Wine.com tested heavily during 2011, with half of its homepages running on Strangeloop Site Optimizer and the other half unimproved. Based on results, recently Wine.com announced full-scale adoption of Strangeloop Site Optimizer. “It was an engineering challenge for Strangeloop to develop optimizations based on our unique, regulated business,” Smalling reported. “Strangeloop best handled enterprise scale via appliance or cloud and has an aggressive plan for further product development to keep us at the front edge of acceleration.”
Strangeloop Site Optimizer analyzes all of a site’s traffic – looking at millions and millions of visitor paths to make sophisticated, on-the-fly decisions about optimizing a customer’s entire journey through the site, said Jonathan Bixby, CEO of Strangeloop Networks, in a press release. “Optimization doesn’t end with one visit,” he asserted. “E-commerce sites succeed or fail on their ability to attract return customers, but most websites don’t take advantage of this behavior. Site Optimizer uses what it learns about each visitor to serve pages even faster the next time that person comes to the site.”
Wine.com has reported significant growth since the implementation of Site Optimizer. In 2011, the company shipped more than two million bottles from its inventory of 13,000-plus products, a 35% increase over the previous year. In addition to offering wine and wine-related gifts and accessories, the online retailer hosts a growing online community of more than 32,000 members who provide customer reviews and ratings, and create and share personal wine lists.
Tackling site speed for desktop users is just the first phase in Wine.com’s performance strategy. In November 2011, the company launched a mobile site for iPhones and Androids that gives customers access to the full range of products, and also allows shoppers to perform location-based searches, manage their accounts and track orders. Accelerating this mobile site is Wine.com’s next priority, said Smalling.
“We’re excited about the release of Strangeloop’s Mobile Site Optimizer,” said Smalling. “We spent a long time developing our mobile site because we wanted to make sure it could deliver a first-class experience to our customers. Making that experience even faster is our next order of business.”