Improving the Quality of the OmniChannel Digital Experience - Part 2

Posted by Kate Jurras on Thu, Feb 21, 2013

Please welcome this week's guest blogger: Lorenz Jakober, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Akamai Technologies. Responsible for the product marketing of Akamai's Aqua product line, Jakober brings a wealth of experience focused on web and mobile application design, performance optimization, usability, and delivery. Prior to joining Akamai Technologies he drove mobile product marketing strategy and the complexity at the edge theme for Compuware Gomez. This is part two of a two-part blog post from Lorenz.

Now let’s focus on how to create engaging, holistic experiences across your different channels. In particular the digital experiences inside and outside your stores. We know that end-users have high expectations when it comes to web and mobile experiences. In fact, Akamai commissioned Forrester to conduct some end-user research back in 2009 and asked consumers how fast do they expect a website to load on their PC? 47% said 2 seconds or less.

In 2011 another company asked the same question but of smartphone users – how fast do you expect a website to load on your smartphone? 34% said 2 seconds or less.

In 2012 the same company asked the same question of tablet users – the result – close to 70% of end-users expect websites to load in 2 seconds or less. That’s the majority and that’s fast.Akamai Graph 2

If you look at these stats a couple of things become clear immediately. End-users don’t care about the underlying technological challenges required to deliver fast, quality experiences over wireless and cellular networks – they just want sites to work and to be fast. The second thing to notice is that end- user expectations just keep getting higher – just like every time Apple releases a new smartphone – it has to be faster, thinner, better in every way – web experience expectations are no exception – apps need to be faster, more engaging, richer, etc.

The problem is that delivering more engaging and richer experiences to OmniChannel consumers faster is difficult. Let’s look at the apps themselves. To deliver richer, more engaging experiences applications have grown and become more complex. Bigger pages, more images, more JavaScript, more CSS – and even more third party integrations – whether it’s social media or analytics or ratings and reviews or even chat. All of these factors make for larger, more complex sites. And as we saw recently, if one of these third party components fails the web experience can degrade significantly.

One of the challenges associated with this trend of larger, more complex applications is that they need to be delivered to end-users’ devices. We have become used to high bandwidth low latency environments like a PC on a wired cable connection. This makes it easier to deliver rich, engaging and fast applications. Not easy but easier.

But now if you throw mobile devices into the mix - either connecting through Wi-Fi or 3G or even 4G – you see this change significantly. Not only is the available bandwidth much lower but the latency is much higher – which equals slower pages. Now if we take this in the context of OmniChannel – where cellular signals in store are often non-existent and the in-store Wi-Fi often leaves something to be desired it becomes even more difficult to deliver a quality experience to your OmniChannel consumers in this environment.

In addition it’s not only about the network or the application but also about the actual device. You saw earlier that the amount of Javascript – often used to enrich applications with AJAX and other client side processing – keeps on growing. If we look at the spec of a new Macbook Pro we can see that it’s a pretty powerful machine – a fast processor with lots of memory and a finely tuned browser which can run a JavaScript benchmark called SunSpider in around 145ms.

Now if we contrast this to an iPad or even an iPhone 4S it becomes pretty clear that you suddenly have to work with a much more constrained device. In fact the same JavaScript benchmark takes about 1880 ms on an iPhone versus the 145ms on a laptop. So the growing amount of JavaScript most modern apps need to function can cause serious headaches unless optimized.

So what does that leave us with from an OmniChannel digital experience perspective? Are retailers meeting end-user expectations of sub two second load times? Well on desktops for the most part they seem to do pretty well. Based on web performance benchmark data from Keynote and Gomez the average website response time of the top 20 US retailers is around two seconds. Now lets look at the average response time of the top 20 retailers’ sites on a tablet – 9.5 seconds – suddenly not so good – and remember this is measured on a high quality Wi-Fi connection – not the in-store Wi-Fi connections that are often severely constrained in bandwidth and high in latency. And what about smartphones – for the mobile sits delivered to smartphones over 3G the average response time is around 9.3 seconds – once again far off end-user expectations.

Akamai Graph 3

At this point you might be wondering – does it even matter if our sites and apps are slow? As most of you know – yes it matters – if dissatisfied with website performance close to 50% of mobile users are unlikely to visit the site again and even more worryingly close to 30% are less likely to purchase from that company – across all channels. In other words, the experience you deliver in one channel can impact the success of your other channels.

Looking at survey data is good but let’s look at real customer data from the field. Real-user monitoring data allows you to see how real consumers actually behave. The graphs below from Gomez are across aggregate data from around 280+ websites and 271 million page views, many of them ecommerce companies. The trend that you can clearly see is that the slower the page the higher the abandonment rate. And higher abandonment generally means less revenue.

Akamai Graph 4

Web and mobile site performance not only impacts revenue however. It also impacts cost. In the age of social media the first thing consumers do when your app is having an issue is to let their friends know – over Facebook or Twitter. This has become such a common occurrence that organizations now monitor Twitter for customer complaints. For this example the helpful response was – why don’t you just call our call center. Now obviously from a cost per transaction perspective the call center is much more expensive than the online transaction. In other words anything you can do to reduce call center volume is a good thing.

Akamai Image 5

So how can you maximize the OmniChannel opportunity despite the associated challenges? Start by adopting your customers’ perspective. How is my current OmniChannel experience – and don’t only look at this in a vacuum – how does it compare to my competition?

You also need to ensure you deliver fast, consistent experiences across all channels and situations. In other words a user on a tablet over Wi-Fi needs to get a different experience that a user on a smartphone on 3G. Now this seems self explanatory – but make sure you take all the different contexts of your users into account here. Are they using the in-store Wi-Fi? What is their location? How capable is the device they are using? Not only should you be aware of all of these end- user situations but you need to optimize your experience for each of them.

This dove tails with the last recommendation and that is to optimize for mobile first – in particular if you are exploring new web development scenarios like responsive web design – focus on the essentials, reduce the number of bytes delivered to the end-user, reduce the number of requests over the network required by your application, and make sure that you accelerate page rendering.

This might sound difficult but as you saw earlier organizations that deliver fast, quality experiences to OmniChannel consumers stand to significantly improve their business.

To learn about how Akamai can help with your OmniChannel initiatives please visit Akamai.com.