Google’s decade-long developments to make the web faster has made one thing clear: website speed in no-longer negotiable, nor does it live up to the demands of today’s consumers. The continuous algorithmic adjustments made by the search giant is causing a sea change for today’s online businesses – from making mobile and desktop speed a ranking factor, to mobile-first indexing, to the Speed Update and the future looming threat of a ‘Badge of Shame’ for slow websites. At the same time, we found that a subset of the leading 500 internet retailers in the US, average a mobile Lighthouse Performance Score that is far lower than we anticipated.
In January 2020, we ran an analysis on the homepages of 100 eCommerce websites from the Internet Retailer 500 (IR500) list, which ranks US online retailers by web sales, through PageSpeed Insights (PSI) to reveal the mobile Lighthouse Performance Scores of leading enterprise eCommerce websites. Google’s Performance Score measures a page’s speed, and is a weighted sum of percentiles that take into account the following measurements: First Contentful Paint (FCP), First Meaningful Paint (FMP), Speed Index (SI), First CPU Idle, and Time to Interactive (TTI).
Note that the Performance Score distribution is skewed: A Performance Score of 50 indicates a site that is in the 75th percentile of websites when it comes to performance. The median score is 27 (which is important to keep in mind when testing your site in PSI). Read on for our findings.
A look into the Lighthouse Scores of the leading internet retailers
After analysis, we found the overall average mobile Lighthouse Performance Score for 100 leading eCommerce websites is a low 25.9, which places it roughly at the median Lighthouse score. Given how important site speed is to eCommerce, this finding surprised us and compelled us to dig deeper. The 100 enterprise eCommerce sites were classified into the following overarching categories: Apparel, Home & Supplies, Mass Retailers, Sports & Hobbies, Tech, and Miscellaneous. The highest performing websites fell within the Tech category, with an average mobile Lighthouse Score of 31.5. Microsoft was the highest performing site with a score of 68, while the Google Play Store followed 6 points behind, and Apple came in third with a score of 58.
Home & Supplies retailers, the likes of IKEA, Lowe’s, and Staples were not far behind, with an average Lighthouse Score of 30.1. Next ranked Mass Retailers, averaging a score of 30, Sports & Hobbies retailers followed with a score of 28.8, and Miscellaneous sites averaged a score of 22. Falling furthest behind with the lowest average Performance Score was the Apparel & Accessories category, producing an average score of 20.5. Within the category, J.Crew brought the highest score of 36, while Nordstrom and Ralph Lauren dragged the average down with scores of 10.
Other brand names on the list you’d expect to perform superior, like Tommy Hilfiger, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Eddie Bauer, Neiman Marcus, Urban Outfitters, and REI, all scored less than 20.
These findings came to our surprise, as we’ve written on how website speed boosts organic traffic, conversion rates, and ROI from SEM – essentials to gaining and retaining an advantage within the highly competitive eCommerce space. Speedy websites rank higher, gain more visibility, and see more conversions, as well as retention rates.
Unfortunately, the majority of eCommerce companies can’t seem to break the never-ending cycle of website optimization, which tends to only bring page load times down milliseconds at a time. While one second has become the golden standard to meet or beat to receive desired conversions, the average page load time for the average eCommerce website is stuck right between 3 and 5 seconds.
In an attempt to meet consumer demand and provide faster experiences, we’re seeing enterprise eCommerce companies upgrade their sites to a headless architecture. Traditional, monolithic website stacks are replaced with a headless architecture, which separates a website's frontend, or ‘head’, from the backend logic via microservices. Once they have gone headless, they can subscribe to the best-of-breed approach and replace their frontend with a modern one built for speed, such as Progressive Web Apps (PWA) or Single Page Applications (SPA).
Interestingly, 70% of the 10 online retailers who consistently bring in the highest U.S. eCommerce sales, have already gone headless. Read on for more details into what headless commerce is doing for the most revenue-generating sites on the web.
"The top U.S. eCommerce brands have gone headless, including Amazon.com, Walmart, Target, and Nike, and the rest are in process or are considering it.” -Ajay Kapur, Layer0 CEO on Why E-Commerce is Going ‘Headless’
Headless eCommerce giants
Seven out of the top 10 most revenue-generating websites, including Amazon (No. 1), Walmart (No. 2), Macy’s (No. 4), Staples (No. 5), Home Depot (No. 6), Grainer (No. 9), and Google Play Store (No. 10), deliver a PWA or SPA to their millions of monthly visitors. These frontends, along with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), support lightning fast mobile and desktop experiences, and deliver a frictionless, “app-like” experience.
While the average mobile Performance Score of the 100 leading retailers falls flat at 25.9, we found the top 10 eCommerce retailers – where 70% have gone headless – bumps the average Performance Score up to 40.4. However, if you only include those with a headless architecture from the top 10, the average score increases further to 46.6, nearly 80% higher than the average for the entire 100, indicating the performance improvements behind what a headless architecture can bring to a revenue-generating eCommerce website.
Furthermore, the top 10 online retailers average faster speeds in all five speed metrics that make up the Lighthouse Performance Score, compared to the list of 100’s average. Comparatively, the top 10 retailers see faster FCPs by 23%, SIs by 53%, and TTIs by 28%. The faster your site is on each metric, the less time consumers spend waiting for your site to load and become interactive.
We’ve written on Walmart, Staples, and Macy’s and the wins each business has seen from going headless and delivering a modern, portable frontend. For example, Walmart experienced a one-percent lift in revenue for every 100ms of page load improvement; Staples boosted conversion by 10% with improved website speed; and Macy’s saw double-digit online growth over the last 3 years. In fact, Macy’s Director of Engineering sat down with Layer0 CEO, Ajay Kapur and CTO, Ishan Anand and discussed how going headless has made the organization more agile and nimble.
Join the 95th percentile with a Lighthouse Score of 85
Venus Fashion, a leading women’s fashion retailer, went headless with Layer0 and now receives a Performance Score of 85. Based on Lighthouse’s Performance Score distribution, Venus falls within the 95th percentile, meaning it outperforms 95% of websites on the internet. With such a high score, and more than half of its website loading in under 320ms, the retailer climbed in the search ranks and increased organic traffic levels and boosted conversions by 24%.
In order to break the 1-second barrier, the server, browser, and edge all need to be optimized. One of the reasons that most eCommerce companies are stuck in the never ending loop of website optimization is that they are focusing on the frontend alone, i.e optimizing the browser. While this might get you from slow to fast, it will never get you to instant. For that, you need to optimize speed across the stack.
The server is optimized by going headless. The frontend is optimized by delivering portable, modern frontend built for speed, like a PWA. However, you need to add in server-side rendering (SSR) and AMP support, in order to decrease first-page load times to deliver a speedy experience from landing through checkout. Lastly, intelligence must be brought to the edge to allow CDNs to understand your website and increase cache hit ratios from the average 10-15% the average retailer see, to 80% or more. Layer0 CDN-as-Code, does exactly that and yields cache hit ratios of 95%+ for dynamic, data-base driven content at the edge.
But don’t take our word for it. Spend a minute browsing though Venus Fashion, The Tie Bar, or AKIRA on your phone to experience instant for yourself. These websites sit on the Layer0, a cutting-edge, modern solution that is taking websites to instant speeds, and bringing enormous business growth to enterprise eCommerce companies.
eCommerce websites optimizing for website speed are being favored by Google, and seeing substantial improvements to ranking conversions, and revenue – and the leading proves just that. With 70% of the leading enterprise eCommerce websites utilizing headless architecture, it’s no coincidence that these sites are generating the most sales in eCommerce. Fast websites provide optimal user experiences – and knowing the average Performance Score of 100 websites within leading 500 internet retailers only surmounts to 25.9, there is plenty of room to surpass these brand names in the search ranks.
For example, Annie Selke is a mid-sized home and decor retailer that is now outranking Amazon (IR No. 1), Wayfair (IR No. 12), and other multi-billion dollar competitors for key phrases, due to its sub-second website on Layer0. With more visibility, Annie Selke has seen organic traffic lift by 32% and revenue by 13%.
The headless websites who rank within the top 10 leading eCommerce websites see average Lighthouse Performance Scores that are 80% higher than the average of the list of 100. However, Layer0 is bringing scores up by over triple the average score to 80+, ranking retailers within the 95th percentile of all websites on the internet. Sites on this platform are averaging a 32% lift in organic traffic and an increase in conversions by 15-30%, with median pages loads of 320ms (FCP), regardless of how complex a site is or network quality.
If you’re ready to outrank and outperform your competitors, schedule a consultative conversation to learn how Layer0 can help you deliver sub-second page loads, increase developer velocity, enterprise agility, and bottom-line growth.