The pressure for fashion retailers to drive e-commerce sales ever upwards is intense – with new and established brands all trying to compete, stay relevant and stay visible within the hyper-competitive space.
This trend has caused brands to become increasingly innovative when it comes to digital marketing, SEO and user experience.
Key factors to consider when wanting to keep visitors engaged and increase the likelihood of converting these visitors, is site and page speed.
Here at ICS-digital, we have taken it upon ourselves to explore the importance of key elements involved in site and page speed and look at the wider picture of how this can impact online sales revenue for fashion retailers.
In this post we’ll also analyse page/site speed performance for a mix of 10 of the fashion industry’s most recognised and interesting brands to give us an insight into what this might mean for their success in the online marketplace.
The fashion industry has always been characterised by fierce competition and innovation, with runway spectacles not only exciting fashionistas, but setting the agenda for brand identity, increasing brand recognition and visibility - and of course, driving sales.
In 2020, competition within the industry remains as fierce as ever. What’s more, The COVID-19 pandemic had put traditional retail sales almost totally on hold between March and July, and there seems to be no respite for brick and mortar fashion retailers just yet, as we enter the second national lockdown in the UK.
In a world where online platforms and apps are becoming the norm for making purchases, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this shift in power towards online sales even further - meaning that fashion retailers are now investing even more in the functionality of their e-commerce platforms and their digital marketing strategies.
As the latest report from Statista shows, e-commerce is consistently ahead in the number of ‘users’ (active paying customers) year-on-year.
To put this into the context of the UK, back in June it was reported that the COVID-19 pandemic was expected to add £5.3bn to UK e-commerce sales taking the total forecast from £73.6bn to £78.9bn for 2020.
More recently, in September 77% of UK consumers said that they have bought more products online since the beginning of the pandemic, and despite sales in other industries being impacted by coronavirus, the global e-commerce growth rate remains at 6.7% and continues to grow in major e-commerce markets like the UK.
When seeking to maximise growth and online performance, site speed is one of the clearest opportunities.
Not only is it something that retailers have a high degree of control over, but changes and improvements can also (in principle) be carried out quickly – with noticeable improvements in user experience, conversion rates, and online sales revenue.
It is also important to understand that site speed refers to the how the site is performing overall, while page speed refers to the time it takes to for content to load on specific URL of the website.
From an SEO-perspective, as far back as 2010 Google published guidance announcing that site speed would be a “new signal” in their search ranking algorithms.
“Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there…like us, our users place a lot of value in speed – that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings.”
Although much changes in SEO – this key aspect of e-commerce operations (and Google’s passion for speed and seamless site performance) remains the same.
Recent studies by Searchmetrics looking at first- and second-page rankings (across several industries) on Google found that having faster load times continues to be key, ten years on.
Their results show a correlation between site speed performance and placement on SERPS, with the top five results generally taking around 2.5 seconds to open, while the next five generally require 2.8 seconds.
In terms of customer experience from a mobile perspective, Google emphasises that bounce rate performance deteriorates every second longer it takes a page to load:
1-3 seconds = bounce rate increases by 32%
1-5 seconds = bounce rate increases by 90%
1-6 seconds = bounce rate increases by 106%
1-10 seconds = bounce rate increases by 123%
In such competitive industries like fashion, understanding how page speed influences bounce is so valuable and can often be the difference between a customer choosing you or a competitor.
The longer you ignore optimizing sites for speed, the more customers you are likely to lose to a faster competitor with comparable pricing and products – especially in the realm of fast fashion.
Furthermore, it’s particularly important to understand the value with regards to mobile performance as fashion audiences are increasingly shifting from desktop to mobile, so improving mobile browsing and checkout experience is becoming imperative.
For example, in 2018 mobile commerce sales accounted for 66% of all sales for Shopify, and the number 1 issue that mobile users complain? Slow pages.
If we look at how this then impacts performance from a sales perspective, studies have shown that:
CrazyEgg’s research into page speed, discovered that speeding up a page by just one second boosted conversions by 7%.
That study concluded that if a company makes $100,000 per day, a one-second improvement generates another $7,000 daily, and the opposite is true too. Online shoppers will never learn to be patient with slow pages – but the financial rewards are there for the brands who commit to speed.
In this short snapshot study, the ICS-digital team analysed page speed of several leading brands, and contrasted this with search engine performance through industry-standard SEO tools.
With so many category and product pages to load, it may seem natural that many fashion e-commerce websites would struggle to perform highly when it comes to mobile page speed in comparison to desktop.
With the above in mind, Misguided are clearly out in front in terms of mobile performance as it is the only website that comes close to 4 seconds, but when looking at time-to-interactive for the other brands like In The Style, Pretty Little Thing, River Island, I Saw It First, Boohoo, NastyGal and Topshop, we can see that the average time it takes for these sites to become fully interactive on mobile devices is between 20 and 25 seconds – with Motel Rocks taking the longest at 36.9 seconds.
Given the increasing significance of mobile commerce, it is interesting to see how long it takes for some brands’ mobile pages to become fully interactive, and whether they seem to prioritise mobile-first SEO strategies.
Studies have shown that 64% of smartphone users expect a website to load in four seconds or less and 38% of smartphone users have screamed at, cursed at, or thrown their phones when pages take too long to load.
Unsurprisingly some of the smaller and younger challenger brands such as In The Style, Motel Rocks and I Saw It First are amongst the lowest scores across the board for both mobile and desktop. However what is slightly surprising is that even though Motel Rocks was founded 18 years before I Saw It First and 14 years before In The Style, Motel Rocks perform worse than the other two brands and has significantly less organic traffic from the UK. Which begs the question of whether there is any correlation between page speed and organic traffic?
Boohoo – one of the most authoritative and high-traffic brands - surprisingly has the lowest desktop score and has the second-longest time to become fully interactive.
Even more surprisingly I Saw It First – a brand only founded in 2017 and amongst the lowest for mobile performance – is top of the leader board for desktop speed performance.
What’s more is that despite being way ahead in mobile, Misguided is among the lowest for speed score for desktop, despite being one of the quickest in terms of time it takes for site to become fully interactive.
Ultimately, based on data taken from these 10 brands, there isn’t a complete correlation suggesting that those brands with higher organic traffic perform better in terms of page speed,
ASOS (3rd highest desktop score) trumps all 9 other competitors by a country mile in terms of traffic with over 20 million organic traffic from the UK (SEMrush), followed by Boohoo who have 5.85 million organic traffic from the UK who comparatively have the lowest desktop page speed score.
Surprisingly, NastyGal, who perform much better on mobile than I Saw It First, fall behind them not only in desktop page speed score but also in organic UK traffic.
Given that Topshop and River Island are the two longest-standing brands with the most experience in the industry - being founded in 1964 and 1948(!) respectively – it’s interesting to see that whilst River Island seem to be lagging behind TopShop in terms of page speed performance across desktop and mobile, River Island has more organic UK traffic, coming in at 3.22 million against Topshop who currently receive 2.37 million organic UK traffic.
In SEO, speed is only one potential area of optimisation but clearly brand is a major traffic driver – as well as (of course) product ranges that match with what consumers are looking for.
However, while this snapshot study doesn’t show a complete correlation between rankings, traffic and speed, we’ve not looked at individual product pages where the battles between brands are often fought – it does at least show the standards that challenger brands are up against.
Of course, we cannot determine a brand’s success in today’s online fashion industry through site and page speed alone, and based on the findings on page speed and organic traffic, this could open up other discussions around conversion rates for those brands receiving high organic traffic but performing poorly in terms of page speed..
Site speed is a cost-effective area of improvement where superiority could give you the edge in a tightly congested industry. Marketers and agencies within the industry look to adapt their approaches to prioritise areas - such as testing/optimising mobile performance, reducing image sizes and numbers, reducing redirects and broken links as well as considering the impact of pop-ups on load time – to improve page and all-around site speed, in order to maximise conversion opportunities and overall sales revenue.