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Website Speed Test Case Study: Asda, Clarks, Lovehoney and WorldStores

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Website Speed Test Case Study: Asda, Clarks, Lovehoney and WorldStores

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com

I want to start with an immense generalisation:

“It’s impossible to find examples in the use of technology in which the user benefits from, or appreciates a response slower than that which they expected.”

This very much underpins a user’s experience of an ECommerce website: Users are demanding, they have high expectations, in extreme cases they feel as though they are doing you a favour by not buying from your competitors. This behaviour is not so becoming of shoppers in the real world but in online for example, it is rather common to LEAVE SHOUTY NEGATIVE FEEDBACK using capital letters, with an obligatory splash of poor spelling and grammar.

Here’s my second generalisation – slightly related to the first:

“There are few more effective ways to frustrate and thus semi-permanently alienate your users than by having a website that is perceived to load in the bottom 50% of their all-time slow website experiences.”

That’s not to say there aren’t a million other things you can do to upset users on ECommerce websites: hidden costs, uncompetitive pricing and poor UX are all winners and broken down nicely by EConsultancy.

A brief history of the website speed test

Having a technical background, testing website speed was one of my first forays into understanding the importance of web users’ experience in 2007 whilst working for a company who ran of some of the busiest websites in the world. Page speed was a complete afterthought in a world where designs and content came first and ECommerce wasn’t nearly as competitive as it is now.

Now we have faster broadband, faster servers and powerful open source software such as jQuery and WordPress which are optimised for just about everything, including performance and SEO. We make an effort to understand users now, rather than hoping designers will second guess what they want. The reason for this is one of business – understanding your customer makes you money.

The WebMethod page speed test 2013

image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net / digitalart

Despite being broadly unglamorous in the world of ECommerce where the fashions right now are Conversion Optimisation, Multi-Channel Attribution, Single View of Customer and Big Data, I want to fly the flag again for webpage performance. Is it really still as important as it once was, or have advances in technology meant that we can all be a bit blasé‎ when it comes to bandwidth?

Taking the 4 finalists – Asda, Clarks, Lovehoney and World Stores from the Best Large Retailer category of the ECommerce Awards 2013 I ran 3 key pages from each site through two of my favourite website speed test tools – Google PageSpeed and Pingdom to see how well they scored for PLT (Page Load Time). For those of you who think I should have done more detailed analysis, I would rather do pro-bono work for a more needy cause than four of Britain’s largest retailers :).

The contenders…


Google Page Speed Test Results

Website Homepage Product Page Listing Page PLT Total
Asda 69% 87% 87% 81%
Clarks 57% 49% 55% 53.67%
Lovehoney 86% 86% 83% 85%
Worldstores 64% 76% 76% 72%


Pingdom Page Speed Test results

Website Homepage Product Page Listing Page PLT Total
Asda 82% 78% 78% 79.33%
Clarks 78% 72% 81% 77%
Lovehoney 93% 83% 84% 86.67%
Worldstores 87% 81% 92% 86.67%


And the winner is…

Position Website PLT Score
WINNER! Lovehoney 85.84%
2nd Asda 80.17%
3rd Worldstores 79.34%
4th Clarks 65.34%

Congratulations to Lovehoney whose PLT wins by a clear margin, commiserations to Clarks who could probably be doing better business if their pages loaded quicker.

The only thing that’s more important than website speed

Website speed, or page load time is simply one factor in your users’ overall experience. A slow loading Ecommerce website might suffer from the most obvious barrier to selling effectively online, but meeting a user’s expectations is far more complex than that.

Users might be happy to wait a little longer for something to happen if they are loyal to your brand, or if they are given progress feedback while waiting. The latter point being raised in a 4OD optimisation presentation during Maxymiser’s Customer Symposium (Sept 2013). For pre-roll ads on online video content, Channel 4 users watched longer pre-roll ads when they were displayed a countdown timer at the same time. This shows that in some instances, users care less about how much actual time is spent waiting, rather it’s the perception of that amount of time.

We ran our own experiment on www.paperstone.co.uk in August 2013 which touched on this. We increased the default number of search results per page shown from 20 to 100 and saw a 9.95% conversion uplift for new customers. This meant that for searches which produced between 21-100 results, there was now no pagination control, which simplified the layout at the top of the list.

Before (with pagination bar):


After (without pagination bar):


It did mean that for searches with > 100 results, the page load time doubled to around 2000ms.


This experiment is not fool proof, but it does indicate that spending the time to understand your users’ needs is paramount for a successful Ecommerce website, rather than just blindly following best practices. Investing in customer research and testing will pay dividends if you’re looking in the right places and able to respond positively to feedback. Website speed is undoubtedly important, but it isn’t everything.

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