Why Amazon Won and WalMart is Failing

Why Amazon Won and WalMart is Failing

This Christmas I bet you visited Amazon and if you are like me purchased at least one item. Last year I started Amazon Prime and love the free shipping, Sunday delivery and a few other features. My order frequency of items other than digital books has skyrocketed, which means I made more than 3 orders this year. This is due to their superior user experience.

Why Amazon is Succeeding

Amazon.com

I am not alone. A recent Washington Post poll captures why Amazon has won the online retail war. In short they win because of user experience. They have addressed most of the pain points we have shopping in brick and mortar and online. Amazon either removed these friction points or made them far less painful.

"When experts talk about Amazon’s skyrocketing sales growth, they often chalk it up to two key factors: The retailer’s low prices and its innovations around speedy shipping."

Notice how I said I order from Amazon now that I have Amazon Prime because of the free shipping and Sunday delivery? Just 20 minutes ago the Amazon delivery guy dropped a package on my next door neighbor's porch. Sunday I had 2 packages arrive. They have their own delivery service!

Please don't think I order constantly from Amazon, it is Christmas after all. After the holiday I will probably drop back to one physical order a month. EBooks and audible books are another thing, I order those all the time. Amazon has become my goto retail source because they have made the ordering process so easy. They have removed the stress for me and millions of others.

However these points weren't the most important descision factor, it was a sense of security.

"The largest share of respondents, 89 percent, said the level of security the company provides for shoppers’ personal information was important."

While you may not think security is a user experience feature, it is. User experience is all about the customer feeling comfortable. This means eliminating cognitive loads and other friction points. Security concerns certainly increase stress, which is bad user experience.

How Web Performance Matters

Something the survey does not cover is web performance. This does not surprise me because the survey was focusing on why customers felt like they purchased or visited Amazon during the shopping process.

Soasta On What Users Want

Soasta rightly points out in a recent infographic Web Performance is user experience. If you look at what desktop and mobile users expect, both expect a page to load quickly and be responsive. Half expect a page to fully load within 2 seconds. Three out of four will abandon a site on their phone if it has not loaded within 5 seconds. 18% of desktop users expect a page to load instantly, 100ms I would assume.

How WalMart is Failing

WalMart.com Masthead

I placed an order with WalMart.com and despite their recent efforts to make a great online experience I felt like they have slipped. The site was sluggish, unresponsive and at one point even caused the browser tab to crash.

Last year I wrote about how WalMart was confident enough in their online presence to make it a key customer interaction channel. This year my experience tells me they have gotten complacent and allowed their user experience to slip. This is causing them to loose ground to Amazon and other competitors.

The WalMart.com experience was just not good. I would click or touch links, only to have them ignored as more and more JavaScript was loaded and evaluated by the browser. Typing in the search box was often unresponsive, again due to excessive scripts being loaded. Sure the main content rendered reasonably fast, but the page was constantly triggering the browser's rendering cycle as scripts were loaded.

WalMart.com WebPageTest Scorecard

Over 400kb of the 2.1MB payload is JavaScript. Let that sink in, 2.1MB of content for a simple WalMart.com category page. Worse yet 114kb of JavaScript is not cached. As I examined the home page I saw a few features that required any JavaScript, a couple of drop down menus and a dynamic navigation feature as you scrolled down the page. I am sure there are a few other minor things, but nothing that warrants 400kb of JavaScript.

Images could also be compressed, saving 251kb. Images are not their biggest issue. Images are often sighted as a source of excess weight, and nothing to be concerned about. Simply not true, but JavaScript is much more concerning because of its blocking nature and time to evaluate. WalMart could certainly go on a JavaScript and image diet in either case.

Unfortunately WalMart's slide back to common is not unusual. Most sites are script obese these days. Web experiences are sluggish and frustrating. I think WalMart's problems are due to poor third party scripts, something which they created an SLA requirement several years ago. Based on my recent experiences they are not enforcing or have relaxed their SLA too much.

You can see from the WebPageTest run I made the WalMart page suffers from many performance issues. Poor time to first byte, 192 HTTP requests and a 14+ second load time. What is interesting is a 2.71 second start render and a respectable 3255 speed index. This means they have a 9-13 second lag while they continue to load excess content. For the record I ran 4 WebPageTest runs over 2 different WalMart URLs.

Category Page

Start RenderSpeed IndexFully Loaded TimeFully Loaded WeightFully Loaded Requests
2.712s325511.27s2.156MB178
3.355s380614.037s2.167MB192

Product Page

Start RenderSpeed IndexFully Loaded TimeFully Loaded WeightFully Loaded Requests
2.438s288917.845s2.291MB164
2.56s307721.25s2.306MB176

As I evaluate these results I am pretty sure I see some WalMart.com performance audits coming soon. These are interesting numbers that synthetic analysis just begins to scratch the surface.

There are 7 ads on the product page for sites other than WalMart.com. If you have studied anything about online marketing unless you are an ad driven site/application you should avoid ads that send visitors away from your business. Eliminating these adds will probably cut their load time in half and make the content responsive must sooner. I guarantee their sales will go up too more than cover the revenue lost from ads.

Walmart.com Ads

Conclusion

Last year I gave WalMart praise for improving their performance and overall user experience. I compared them to a company that is clearly struggling to stay relevant in Best Buy. But I did mention they still have work to do to make WalMart.com a great experience. This year I have to say they are sliding back. The purchasing experience this year was rough. Honestly if the prices on the items I ordered were not so cheap I would have just walked away.

If you are running any online experience try to emulate companies like Amazon and provide a great user experience. Study what they do and how they do it. When you visit a site like WalMart.com and find things frustrating or stressful take a moment and run the URL through WebPageTest or dive into your browser's developer tools and see how the page or application is composed.

Take the good things and apply them to your site and purge things that lead to bad experience. Your business or organization's bottom line and customer engagement numbers will become much healthier.

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