Major U.S. Retail Web Sites Scrape Bottom of Latest Multinational Performance Review

Written by Fred J. Aun
March 25th, 2009

Being Americans here at StorefrontBacktalk, we felt a twinge in the old patriotism bone after seeing a British analyst’s observation that U.S.-owned retailers’ Web sites, including eBay and Amazon, basically sucked when compared in March to many from the U.K.

But setting aside our patriotic pride, it seems Lawrence Shaw, CEO of London-based Web site performance monitoring company Sitemorse, has a point. Sitemorse’s March analysis of more than 100 retail Web sites indeed showed that many big-name U.S.-based sites presented serious compliance and performance shortcomings.

Sitemorse, partnering with Interwoven, regularly tests the first 125 pages of major retail sites. The automated system scans for a variety of functions, including broken links and whether images also have text descriptions.

“Everybody thinks the U.S. leads the market in terms of technology and the Internet, but for Web site quality, compliance and performance the bottom 10 comprises predominantly U.S.-owned retailers,” Shaw said. “This compares with the top 10 that are quintessentially British merchants.”

Shaw said he was said he was really surprised by the March results. Sitemorse’s March table had all the U.S.-based sites in the bottom half of the performance chart. That meant lousy rankings for some very big names in E-Commerce, with eBay, Amazon and Dell situated near the very bottom of the ranked table. The Toys R US site presented the most functional failures of all sites reviewed, primarily due to links that didn’t work. Shaw noted the site’s links to Toys R Us’ UK, Canada and Japanese sites were among those that didn’t function. “That’s not very good housekeeping,” he said.

He also said the poor performances by the U.S. sites was not what Sitemorse normally sees in its monthly tests. “That was what was surprising,” he said. “It was noticeable in this month’s report and it was quite amazing. It’s strange that some of the really big American names did so badly, especially with the U.K.’s High Street retailers decimated by the credit crunch and recession.”

Shaw figured U.S. site managers would do their best to make their Web sites run at peak performance during the down economy since many people are going online in search of bargains. More confusing is the fact that the errors, omissions and problems found by Sitemorse were mainly of the type that didn’t need to happen. “All the things we found can be easily prevented,” Shaw said. “Things like accessibility text on images where we saw numerous failures. Another thing the retailers really rely on is search engine optimization, page titles and page descriptions and, things that are very easy to get right.”

Shaw was unable to provide a theory for the U.S. sites’ decline. “The thing with a Web site is it’s a constantly changing and adapting thing,” he said. “You need to maintain it continuously.” Retailers who don’t are risking loss of sales due to the fickle nature of online shoppers who will quickly jump to another site if the one they’re on fails to operate properly.

Shaw suspects that some CIOs or E-Commerce directors blindly believe assertions by third party Web agencies and media companies that tell them their sites are running fine. He said company executives should ask to see documentation proving those claims.


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