Leading internet retailers reveal intimate details about their speed

by Chelsea Fought on January 25, 2012

I love it when we find people willing to share detailed performance data for their websites.  Last year Etsy announced on their blog that they were committed to speeding up their website and promised to share their progress publicly.  Etsy kept their word, and published Site Performance Reports in August and November documenting their efforts to make their site load faster.

A few days ago Jonathan Klein, a Senior Software Engineer at Wayfair, followed in their footsteps and posted a site performance report on Wayfair’s engineering blog comparing their January 2012 site performance on key pages (i.e. home, search results, product browsing, and product pages) to their performance in September 2011.  What they found was surprising.

In almost all areas their page load time went up.  For example, their search results page, when looking at the 95th percentile load time, went from 1 second to 3.7 seconds. The only place they saw any improvement was in the 95th percentile for their homepage – in September it took 0.54 seconds to load, and in January it decreased to 0.433 seconds (however when looking at their average load time, the homepage time increased from 0.245 seconds in September to 0.267 seconds in January).

Ultimately this caused them to ask, “What happened between September and now?”  Jonathan had an explanation:

There is a very simple reason for this – we stopped focusing on performance.

We had made performance a priority for a while – we treated it like a project, we set goals, and we achieved many of them. But then we made the mistake of resting somewhat on these achievements and moved on. Don’t misunderstand — nobody actually said, “we’re done, let’s forget about performance” but at the same time no one was actually dedicated to improving performance over the last 4 months, and only a few projects were explicitly designed to speed things up. Instead the relentless drive for new functionality (which usually ends up taxing our servers) took over and became the focus. And the results once again demonstrate that the natural trend for load time is up if you take your eyes off the target. On top of that, traffic on our sites is steadily increasing, adding further complexity to the situation (though in the end this is a good problem to have).

Now, before you give them a hard time, keep in mind these performance numbers are still far better than most sites on the internet. I’m impressed by Wayfair’s willingness to be transparent about their site’s performance and Jonathan’s honesty in talking about their failures as well as successes. To me, it shows the priority they place on their site’s performance and that they really care about their users’ experience.

As you know, a site’s performance directly impacts a user’s experience. The longer the load time, the more likely a site visitor is to leave your site. I know I’ve definitely gotten frustrated while waiting for different websites to load. You shouldn’t let your site’s performance slip, you have to be aware of it at all times, otherwise, as Jonathan notes at Wayfair, you’ll “pay the price” for not making it a priority.

Wayfair have made a big commitment to the performance of their site, and yet they still have the challenge of continually optimizing their site with each new release.  It’s a struggle for many internet retailers, as you can get stuck doing the same performance optimizations over and over again.  That’s one of the reasons so many people are choosing to use an automated service like Torbit – we take care of the  performance optimization process, helping sites increase the speed of their loading times to ultimately increase user satisfaction. Ultimately our service allows sites, such as Wayfair, the ability to focus on other important projects and keep their site performance optimized at the same time.

In the end, kudos to companies like Wayfair and Etsy for their transparency regarding their site performance. It’s nice to see sites paying attention to their site’s performance and being willing to talk about it publicly – after all, the first step to improving your site’s speed is to measure it.

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