Speed Doesn’t Matter

April 1, 2010 9:33 am | 16 Comments

[Note the date this blog post was written.]

Six years. Wasted.

That’s how I’m feeling after reading a recent performance-related article from WebSundries.com. The article reviews the results of various performance changes made to their web site, and the impact it had on their business. Although the improvements did in fact improve several metrics, at the end of the day they found it didn’t matter than much

The conclusions are a surprise, to say the least. But DeWitt Leighter, WebSundries’ VP of Engineering who authored the article, brought up several good points to support their interpretation of the data:

Focusing on improving the speed of our web site did have benefits. Conversions increased by 27%. Unique users nearly doubled (97% increase), and session length increased from 12 to 19 minutes. But the costs to achieve this were also significant, and in our interpretation outweighed the benefits.

Among the costs of improving their web site performance was the development effort. Later Leighter described how their developers were burdened by having to learn how to program, and worry about the impact of their changes. Leighter says this was an unsustainable cost with no end in sight. The result?

We’ve gone full circle. The entire front page is now a single image. We use a technique called image maps to take the user directly to the product they wish to purchase. We reduced the size of our HTML document from nearly 17 kB to just under 200 bytes, and that’s before compression.

In response to the increases in conversions and users, DeWitt cited the fact that revenue was not one of their key business metrics, and user satisfaction was hard to measure and thus easy to ignore. When asked about the impact of downloading their 26 MB image map on mobile devices, Leighter recalled recent studies that show bandwidth is increasing and mobile usage is on the decline. As evidence he cited the fact that their web logs show almost no mobile users.

Chilling results to say the least. I’ll be watching closely to see how this alternative approach to web site performance plays out for WebSundries.com.

About WebSundries.com

WebSundries.com has been the destination for shoppers for nearly two centuries. Starting in 1826 as Leighter’s Dry Goods and Mercantile, they’re perhaps best known for their heavy investment in vacuum tubes and rotary phones, for which they still hold the world’s largest inventories. Rebranded as WebSundries.com in 1998, the company boasts having one of the most consistent customer bases on the Internet, with almost no change since they first launched their site.

16 Responses to Speed Doesn’t Matter

  1. Well played, sir. You actually had me going for a minute.

  2. Wonderful !!!

  3. Dude! You are a funny man!

  4. That’s what you get for not clicking links first. You had me all the way to the 26MB image map ;)

  5. hm, crap. you got me :)

  6. Their jobs page appears to be missing :( This is a big dissapointment, I was ready to quit my job tomorrow to join this dynamic and visionary company.

  7. Sir, you got me!!

  8. God, I waited that for a long time.

  9. Hey Steve! You got me for a sec. haha

  10. very funny :))).. i had to download 26mb in my slow internet ….

  11. phew :-) that was good

    on the other hand it is indeed difficult to measure user satisfaction and more arguably justifying the benefits to business user. This may not be difficult for technology company for non technology it is very true!!

  12. You even added a counter to the image name so it doesn’t cache! That’s pure evil!

  13. Argh – that’s what I get for reading the blog post 4 days AFTER April fools without checking the posting date – nice!

    I wouldn’t have bitten so hard if it just wasn’t so believable – sigh.

  14. Didn’t read it on the 1st but had a gut feeling that it’s an April fools – your “I quit” post title couldn’t be that calm ;)

  15. Amazing! :-)

  16. Ha… I’ve got chills, at first… Memorable experience though.