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To the swiftest, goes the e-biz prize!

December 22 2014: As we are heading for 2014, e-commerce is under heavy expansion. A growing number of online consumers will put pressure on e-commerce sites’ functionality.

Web performance expert Sven Hammar, CEO of Apica, suggests how to avoid being the e-retailer who throws the customers out on the street in 2014.

New technology has put e-commerce in a constant growth. Feeling more secure and accustomed to shopping online, more consumers are turning online for their essential shopping. Increased creativity and the rapid development among e-commerce retailers with expanding loyalty programs and promotions also play an important role in this process. Forrester predicts that the average shopper will spend $1,738 annually by 2016, compared with $1,207 in 2011. The same institute also claims that the estimated increased figures in sales will largely be contributed from existing online shoppers.
Increased promotional sales and the fact that each consumer makes more transactions will not reduce the pressure on the e-commerce sites. On the contrary. This leads to increased pressure on e-commerce sites. E-commerce companies really need to take in to consideration what impact on the web sites’ performance and functionality a sudden growth of visitors and transactions may result in. An ill-prepared e-shopping site could lose customers very quickly.

Picture yourself doing a supposedly quick online shopping errand during lunch. When something that should take a few minutes ends up taking your entire lunch hour because of a slow website, you lose patience quickly. You would probably regard it as unacceptable, as probably most of your customers. But that situation can easily be avoided. Here are six ideas on how to optimize desktop and mobile website performance:
1. Minimize or remove Flash. Flash is bulky and is often not worth the added limited benefits. Flash is also incompatible with most mobile devices so a big chunk of your visitors may be unable to view the content anyway. If you cannot eliminate it completely, minimize it.
2. Optimize images. Keeping images in their full size consumes a lot of bandwidth as they load so resize them whenever possible. Also, change the format and optimize them for the web. Sometimes there is extra space or padding around graphics to separate it from text or other elements, but consider cropping that out and using CSS to create the padding. Fine-tune image settings in programs with that option because reducing the colour palette from 256 to 32 greatly reduces file size. And finally, decrease the quality setting, since reducing them to 80 or 90 percent will not show any significant difference from the original.
3. Do not embed external media. Eliminate links to videos hosted on other sites because your pages will only run as fast as theirs. If it is really good and beneficial to reference, host it on your own site whenever possible so you are not relying on another website’s performance.
4. Consider utilizing a content delivery network. A CDN is a system of servers networked across the Internet and designed to serve up content closer to end users, shortening the delivery cycle and decreasing page load times. This improves scalability and efficiency but more importantly, it provides a better user experience for your site visitors. When users abandon sites after waiting a mere two seconds or less, it is an option worth considering.

5. Choose the best web host for your business. Do not stick with a host provider overloaded with thousands of other sites, slowing yours down, just because you have been with them for a long time. Your host needs to understand your organization and its requirements, including performance, availability, security and more, so in order to keep up with business demands and continually evolve, make sure they are continually delivering on their promises.
6. Conduct load testing and monitor your site regularly for performance dips and spikes. Address the dips with code and content changes. If you have a proactive load testing and monitoring plan in place, you have a better chance of avoiding the site abandonment issue described earlier.
Sven Hammar is founder and CEO of Apica, a provider of load testing and performance monitoring for cloud and mobile applications