Though I can think of one or two recent examples of online retailers being unable to cope with ‘unprecedented’ traffic, the UK’s e-commerce sites have a higher average availability rate than those of some European rivals. 

The AT Internet study found that 99.57% of its tests of UK sites were trouble-free for availability, though it did find that UK etailers fared less well with page load and site response times… 

The study looked at major e-commerce sites in the UK, Spain, Germany and France between November 9 and 22 last year, though the numbers of sites studied differ from country to country. For example, 38 UK sites were tested, compared with just 14 in Germany. 

Average site availability

99.57% of Observer tests on UK sites did not experience any errors, followed by France (99.37%), Spain (99.08%) and Germany (98.90%).

Site response times

Response times were most impressive for the German e-commerce sites studied, with an average of 371 milliseconds, followed by the UK (437ms). 

Page load times

One aspect that users will notice, especially if it is too slow. It is to be the ‘eight second rule’, but few web users would tolerate that kind of delay nowadays, so 1-2 seconds for a page to load seems like a reasonable target. Basically, if people notice they are waiting, they will begin to wonder. 

However, most of the sites in this study fall below this. The best average load time was for French sites with 3.4 seconds, with 3.59 seconds for German sites, 4.45 for the UK, and 6.24 seconds for the Spanish sites studied. 

However, if you drill into the numbers, and bear in mind that more UK e-commerce sites were studies, it seems that there are some slow sites bringing the UK average down. The fastest page load time in the UK was 512ms, while the worst was a very slow 10.3 seconds. 

Why does this matter? 

Downtime for e-commerce sites is something to be avoided at all costs, as the consequences of missing out on sales as a result can be costly for the business. Just last week, the Debenhams website was down for up to 24 hours thanks to extra sales traffic, and this wasn’t the first such problem for the retailer. 

The same thing happened in November 2008 during a sale, and the result was lost sales, and extra traffic for Debenhams’ competitors during the busiest shopping period of the year. 

It can also be a killer for any e-commerce startups or lesser known etailers too, as ‘timeout’ errors – the most common problem in the survey- will have customers wondering whether they can trust a site. 

Retailers need to ensure that they their websites can handle the traffic they are expecting, tools such as Load Impact can help here, while also ensuring that there is spare capacity to handle extra visitor volumes. 

Retailers should also keep a close eye on page load times; not only can this be offputting for visitors, but this forms part of the criteria for Google’s Quality Score for landing pages