Wait A Minute, Akamai, With Your 2-Second Page Load Report

Written by Fred J. Aun
September 23rd, 2009

Akamai recently published a study saying consumers lose patience with E-Commerce sites that take more than two seconds to load. The September 14 report, based on an Akamai-commissioned survey by Forrester, received a good deal of media attention. But the conclusion—that sites that used to have to load in four seconds now need to load twice as quickly—is not only not supported in the report itself, but it doesn’t make any sense given the complicated reality that is today’s Web.

Nobody will argue that when it comes to page display rates, the faster the better. However, we couldn’t help but wonder about the accuracy, and meaningfulness, of the report. Did anybody actually measure how many seconds passed before an E-Commerce consumer clicked away from a retailer site? It seems hard to believe that somebody interested in shopping at, say, would flee in a huff to if the Macy’s site didn’t load before three seconds had passed.

Indeed, given the tons of causes of slight delays in page loads today that are entirely beyond the reach of the retailer’s IT department—including Internet congestion, delays at the consumer’s ISP and unanticipated and momentary traffic surges for that retailer’s site, not to mention the consumer’s machine’s speed, internal congestion and whether a backup or virus-checker program chooses to do something at the moment of that visit—it’s hard to argue that a two-second delay could even be detected.

Many households have several computers sharing a cable modem or DSL line. All it takes is someone playing World of Warcraft for there to be a chunk of available bandwidth gone from the equation, a squeezing of the pipe that might make that retail shopping site appear to be a slow-loader when it actually appears in the wink of an eye on the neighbor’s PC. There’s also the processing power, available memory, running applications and open browser tabs that could slow a site’s debut.

As it turns out, there was no real testing. The findings cited in the Akamai/Forrester report were based on answers to a survey E-Mailed to 1,048 people. We’re not suggesting the survey respondents lied. But can any real conclusions be drawn from the answers to multiple-choice questions asking people how long they wait for sites to load? The respondents weren’t even hand-selected; they were in actuality self-selected based on whoever chose to fill out the form.

Even Akamai isn’t exactly thrilled about the use of a survey to determine E-Commerce site user patience. “We have the same concern,” said Akamai Marketing Manager for E-Commerce Margaret Rivera. “People aren’t going to necessarily differentiate between fractions of a second. We looked into different approaches and, unfortunately, the consumer survey was the best way to go about it. I’m definitely open to other thoughts.”

She pointed out that the survey is a measurement of “consumer perception,” which might differ from real-world consumer action. However, Rivera jumped to a conclusion that we might not make: “The acceptable page-load time is probably even shorter” than two seconds.

The point is that, despite what they say on surveys, we assert that people are likely more willing to give a site a break than you would believe after reading the Akamai/Forrester report. It said that 47 percent of consumers “expect a Web page to load in two seconds or less.” Akamai said that, in an identical survey it and Forrester conducted in 2006, most consumers expected pages to load in four or fewer seconds.


2 Comments | Read Wait A Minute, Akamai, With Your 2-Second Page Load Report

  1. JamesSimon Says:

    If we could get to the stage where sites load in 4 seconds, let alone, 2 seconds that would be awesome achievement. The most import message from their message is that page load speed is important – and really important for ecommerce sites – people won’t wait to give you money – right?

    About 2 years and some customer feedback from visitors that my websites were slow – I launched into finding out why, i’m not a techie but I know I hate slow websites. I was shocked to discover that in countries where I do the most business (US, UK, AUS) my sites were taking waaaay longer to download, memorably 34 seconds in the UK. The interesting learning for me was that while my site loads fast for me, it loaded at different rates all around the world dependent on the distance form the customers browser to the server where my website/s was hosted (factor called ‘latency’).

    What I did: got in the ‘expert’, cost me a lot but made a big difference to my page load speed – my ‘expert’ moved jobs and I went looking for a solution that I could turn on and would automate making my websites faster and, you know, there was very little out there (though things may have changed I did this piece of work over 12 months ago). I decided on the website accelerator from Aptimize and it does everything for me.

    The result: i now get feedback from other people asking me how my sites, with all their images, load so fast – traffic up by 15%, page views up by 31%, newletter sign-up 17%, sales up 9%.

    Don’t assume everyone (your potential customers) is experiencing the same page load speed as you – because they are not.

  2. Rob Martell Says:

    As a consumer, I am stunned by the number of servers that must respond to my request to view a vendor’s website. When any one of them slows everything or even stops it (Waiting for …) I definitely move on.


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