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E-tail sites resilient amid latest holiday hubbub

Web sites are handling holiday traffic well, even improving performance from a few weeks ago, according to new research.

Web sites are handling holiday traffic well, even improving performance from a few weeks ago, according to a study released Friday.

The average download time for an e-tail Web site was even faster during the week of Nov. 26 through Dec. 2 than it was the week before, according to Keynote Systems, which monitors Web site performance issues. Online shoppers were also less likely to encounter site outages last week than the week before, Keynote said.

"It's good news right now," said Daniel Todd, chief technologist of public services for Keynote. "We see these sites adjusting themselves, getting ready for the holidays.

"It appears that the e-tailers are hitting their strides. We'll see how well they are able to maintain that."

Some individual sites appeared to be having problems. Although the average download time for an e-tail site last week was 3.43 seconds, shoppers visiting or Kmart's could expect to wait more than three times that long, Keynote reported.

With download times of 12.6 and 11.6 seconds, respectively, both sites violated the 8-second rule, Todd noted. Research done last year indicated that Web visitors would not wait more than 8 seconds to download a site. San Mateo, Calif.-based Keynote measures the download times based on connections using high-speed T1 and T3 lines.

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E-tailers ready for the holiday crush
Daniel Todd, chief technologist, public services, Keynote Systems
BlueLight spokesman Dave Karraker said the slowdowns on his company's site were caused in part because customers were using shopping bots to find PlayStation 2 game consoles. In recent days, BlueLight has been able to redirect traffic from those bots, and sales have been increasing 5 percent per day, Karraker said.

"If there are problems, our sales are not being affected by them," he said.

Although customers were able to download the site relatively quickly--in just 3.39 seconds--one in five of them was unable to access the site, Keystone reported. BestBuy's availability was up from the day after Thanksgiving, when the site was available just 47 percent of the time. But its 78.6 percent availability last week was still far worse than that of competitors, which averaged more than 98 percent uptime.

"When sites don't meet customer expectations, they're going to lose that customer," Todd said. Those customers "are going to go to another site."

Keynote measures average performance over the course of a week, which sometimes can obscure more immediate problems., for instance, has suffered several short outages in recent weeks but scored high on Keynote's report with 99.2 percent uptime.