Holiday Web Performance: A Retrospective

It's been hectic, but the 2013 online holiday shopping season has concluded -- well, unless you’re using overnight shipping. Unlike past years, this time around retailers offered holiday shoppers an extra seven business days to get through their Christmas lists. Given where Christmas falls on the calendar this year, last minute shoppers had more than enough time to make their online orders this past Monday and still receive their items in time to be under the tree.

As I mentioned in my last post, this extra week of shopping placed increased pressure on sites to maintain performance levels on Monday, Dec. 16 (which I’ve referred to as Cyber Monday Part 2). After monitoring how the top 50 retail sites have performed throughout this holiday season we fully expected online retailers to deliver Web performance on Dec. 16 consistent with that of both Cyber Monday and Green Monday Part 1.

Our data revealed that Web performance and availability for the top fifty retailers remained about the same this past Monday as compared to the previous top online shopping days.

Below is a summary of the online retailers’ Web performance and availability on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Green Monday (Part 1) and Green Monday (Part 2):

1

2

3

 

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First Paint timing, the point when the user’s eyes detect the first burst of pixel activity on the screen, was fastest on Green Monday Part 2 -- an improvement that corresponds with Akamai retail traffic data. Akamai recorded peak traffic on Green Monday part 1 of approximately 5.6 million page views per minute, down from a peak of 6.3 million on Green Monday Part 1 and 11.0 million on Cyber Monday.  Across the board, the Above the Fold timing, which is the point at which all the content is fully loaded in the displayed portion of the browser, remained at around three seconds.

As a whole, retailers were able to deliver strong Web performance over the course of this holiday season, despite the challenges of high traffic. Availability averaged 99% both before and during the top three online shopping days (Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday) – availability got even better on these days with 24 out of 50 retailers maintaining 100% availability.

Among the top 50 retail sites, Abercrombie & Fitch, Avon, Lowes, Systemax, and Walgreens were all able to keep their First Paint time under one second — both before and during the top three online shopping days (Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday). The highest visual user experience timings throughout the online holiday shopping season were recorded on Cyber Monday when traffic was at its peak — which explains the increase.

The majority of the sites kept their first paint timings around one and a half second – only a few had a timing greater than two seconds — indicating that online retailers are beginning to shift their priorities with regard to how their pages load, especially on the biggest shopping days of the year. With only one major outage occurring so far, it appears safe to say that the retail top 50 will make it through this shopping season unscathed — showing how far online retailers have come with regard performance during peak shopping times.

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