Slow page loading speeds cost online retailers globally more than £1.7 billion in lost sales according to new research from online customer data platform QuBit.

E-commerce is now well established and seasoned retailers are adept at working out what customers would like to see on a page, how best to market new products off site, social marketing and much more.

Unfortunately, one of the most basic requirements for an e-commerce site to appeal to customers is still being ignored, and that is latency, or the amount of time it takes for a page to load. This is costing businesses a surprising amount of money and is the subject of a new report by QuBit, the company started by four former Googler’s which looks at big data to help businesses make better decisions.

According to QuBit, in the UK, the online sector makes up around 7% of total GDP. Website sales totalled £68.2 billion in 2011. To miss out on part of that action because of a rookie error like page load times seems insane.

Testing customer patience

Our patience for actions to happen online has grown very short, very quickly. Think about the last time you were waiting for a page to load. How many times did you hit refresh? How long did it take for you to move on?

In 2006, the average user would be happy if a page took around 4 seconds to load, but by 2009 these expectations had halved to 2 seconds. Whilst the 2012 value remains unknown, Google suggests that any site taking longer than 1.5 seconds to load is ‘slow’ and will consequently be relegated within their search engine ranking.

Google relegation. Not something that any business wants to see happening, especially when so many Google users barely get past page one of their results.

QuBit is not doing all of this lovely research without offering something at the same time of course. The research was conducted by QuBit with its Exit Feedback tool. It creates a little form on a page to ask people what they thought of their experience.

Check out the video to find out more on how Exit Feedback works.

Though consumers are more likely to write something when they’re not so happy with a service rather than shower you with bouquets about the content and layout of your beautiful site, at least having some form of feedback means that businesses can correct the things that are driving possible customers away.

The research has been commissioned to mark the launch of Universal Tag, a new feature in QuBit’s OpenTag tag management system. Universal Tag helps with integrating multiple on-site marketing and measurement platforms by standardising the interface between these technologies into a single format. It basically streamlines these things to improve site speed performance.

Who’s winning?

Looking at the top retail sites ranked by Alexa globally; IKEA, Bestbuy and H&M are doing well, but Barnes and Noble and Deal Extreme are really making people wait according to this data.

Site Speed Benchmark Graphpic Slow loading e commerce sites cost global retailers more than £1.7b in lost sales

The data was gathered over the first few months of this year and the site speed research was done over two weeks in April. The 60,000 pieces of customer feedback were collected using the Exit Feedback tool and collated free text feedback from from users of QuBit’s client’s sites.

QuBit says e-commerce businesses should have a need for speed if they want to improve customer retention. A faster loading page will increase traffic and reduce abandonment. Customers are more likely to spend extra time on a site if the pages load quickly and they are also likely to engage with marketing offers if they are delivered swiftly and are easy to use.

Graham Cooke, CEO of QuBit is surprised that major businesses are not paying attention to latency and the bounce rates that could happen as a result. He said,

“Site speed is one of the most fundamental measures of a site’s performance so it’s surprising to see so many major retailers falling down in this area. There are a range of simple things that retailer can do to enhance site speed – from using a Content Delivery Network to implementing tag management – and the £1.7 billion cost of slow speeds should be more than enough incentive for retailers to look at these options.

“The numbers revealed by this research are even more troubling when you bear in mind the expected rate of growth for online retail. Based on current predictions, if retailers fail to act on poor site speeds it could be costing them more than £4 billion in just 18 months.”

There’s a great deal of pomp and circumstance about all businesses needing a web presence and it’s quite right. There is a huge amount of pride taken in new design, content offerings and smarter payment systems for e-commerce.

This is all well and good and makes customers want to come back. But no one will know about how cool all of this is, if you don’t optimise to get your site moving at the speeds that consumers demand.

Not surprisingly, the QuBit site loads pretty quickly too, it’s good to see that it can practice what it preaches.