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The very real problem facing British retailers that nobody is talking about

Everyone hates slow websites, but retailers should hate them more than anyone else - after all, billions of pounds in revenue is being lost to poor web performance.

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The very real problem facing British retailers that nobody is talking about

Imagine this was the storefront of an open store – no branding, no window dressing, nobody greeting customers. Imagine the negative impression it would have. Visitors would be wondering whether it’s even open and would simply walk straight past.

This is the physical manifestation of a slow website: the white screen while visitors wait.

It goes without saying that everyone hates slow websites – I’m sure nobody needs convincing on that front – but billions of pounds in revenue is being lost by those who fail to prioritise web performance.

Boardrooms shouldn’t just focus on weekly financial targets, but on how much revenue they left on the table, and build speed targets into their weekly board-level metrics.

The cost of a slow website

It's been ten years since Amazon discovered a “1% decrease in revenue for every 100ms increase in load time”, and the scale of the problem has only become clearer since then.

Google’s latest research shows that web users rank the importance of website speed over anything else for user experience – even the ease of finding what they want!


For those taking this advice on board, the results speak for themselves.


These are all metrics that retailers track and analyse, but without clear visibility of web performance, low-hanging fruit for optimisation can be missed and fluctuations can be misattributed.

Leader of the pack

With this in mind, SHIFT set out to study 44 of the largest fashion retailers in the UK. After running multiple tests per day, over a seven-day period, it became clear that only a small minority of companies recognise web performance as a core part of their business strategy – the rest simply aren’t taking it seriously.

One retailer that does see the importance is Schuhas well as being a high-flyer in our recent RES report, Schuh’s website consistently loaded the fastest, and the comparison to the competition is stark. The below image illustrates how bad things really are for the industry: at the point Schuh’s website has completely loaded, 25 of the 44 retailers hadn’t even shown any signs of getting started, leaving the visitor to wonder if the website was offline:


What’s more, 20 of these retailers didn’t render anything whatsoever within three seconds, even on a 4G connection – a startling figure given Google found that 53% of customers on mobile devices will leave if a page takes over three seconds to load.

Schuh’s success in this test is far from lucky. Stuart McMillan, deputy head of ecommerce at the business, has continuously pushed a performance-first approach fed by careful research. “It’s clear in our data: the slower someone’s session, the higher the bounce rate,” he tells SHIFT Magazine. “It’s not a vanity project; it’s about an experience that removes barriers to purchase.”

Meanwhile, third-placed Matalan’s director of ecommerce, Paul Hornby, speaks of the company’s constant focus on increasing convenience of both online and offline channels by valuing the importance of ecommerce’s role in “joining the two worlds”.

He continues: “If the website fails to deliver a fast and slick experience for the customer, this crucial link is undermined and the customer suffers. The ecommerce team here is always pushing to deliver the next breakthrough in customer experience online.”

It’s clear that these retailers use the very best practices to keep on top – and for underperforming rivals, a culture change is absolutely necessary if they’re to match these pioneers of performance.

To do so, three huge factors need to be considered.

Prioritising performance: putting it at the forefront of your strategy

1. Raise awareness

The first step to addressing any problem is recognising you have one.

If you’re not one of the best performing retailers above, Google has published a free tool that allows you to see how much revenue your site is losing from traffic you’ve already paid for.


Understanding the size of this prize, then adding a rigorous speed metric to your weekly board-level reporting, is essential. Harry Roberts, who has worked with the likes of the BBC, NHS, UN, Financial Times, and Google, often finds in his consultancy work that prioritisation of the issue is regularly misconstrued by people at the top.

“I often find that senior and non-technical stakeholders believe performance to be a technical problem,” he explains. “It isn’t. It’s strategic, and needs business-level support and backing for it to be successful.”

For Schuh, it’s a regular talking point at every level. “We have a main ecommerce report that goes out to all key stakeholders in the business every week,” McMillan adds. “One page is on the technical performance of the site.”

It’s more important than ever to get the whole organisation pulling in the same direction. Businesses must give the ecommerce team a metric with which to safeguard against short-term decision-making that could have a negative impact on website performance.


2. Robust measurement

Performance is as much about perception as it is reality; capturing how a website ‘feels’ to customers as it loads is tricky to measure at scale, and not all speed metrics are created equal.

‘Page load time’ often gets thrown around as a metric that sounds simple to understand, but in reality it means something different to everyone.

So, which metrics should we be analysing?

Start Render

  • When is it first apparent that the website has started to load and it’s not offline or broken?


  • How fast does the site load over time – does it load nothing meaningful then everything at once, or does it load more progressively, giving the customer something useful quickly, then enhancing from there?

First Meaningful Paint

  • When does the site first show something meaningful?

Hero Paint Time

  • How quickly does the most important element of a page appear?


  • When can the visitor start interacting with the website; scrolling, navigating, etc?

Individually, none of these metrics are silver bullets, but combining them together presents a clear picture of how a website loads.

It’s not enough just to consider what metrics we measure, though – we need to consider the environment in which we’re measuring them.

You need to understand your customer base, what devices they use, the kind of connectivity they are accustomed to, and even geographically where they are, as best you can – they’re all uncontrollable, but trackable, factors that impact performance.

“76% of our traffic comes from smartphones,” McMillan continues. “The trend has been clear for years. Site speed is of paramount importance on mobile; what use is amazing content if people get annoyed before they see it?”

Hornby agrees: “Mobile plays a huge part in that experience and so speed, especially over mobile networks, is a large part of our focus.”


Testing website performance on a powerful desktop computer over a fibre connection at the office is not going to be a real-world test – a budget Android phone on flaky 3G may be more realistic.

These metrics can be analysed across a variety of different devices and connection strengths using a tool such as SpeedCurve (paid) or WebPageTest (free) – the best implementations will be RUM (Real User Monitoring), but even running some synthetic tests is a good start.

3. Continuous improvement

If you’re not moving forwards, you’re going backwards.

McMillan and his team certainly won’t be victims of arrogance regarding their table-topping performance right now. He explains: “We do love a league table at Schuh, and if we saw we were slower than some of our competitors, we’d be driven to improve.”

This is, without a doubt, the best attitude to have. Building regular performance improvements into your release schedule is vital. Without continuous advancement, you’ll always lag behind the competition.

The good news for traditional omnichannel retailers is that our analysis showed how plenty of pure-play retailers are not focused enough on performance either, meaning there’s a real chance to outperform them in this hugely critical area – but just remember, a lot of businesses are already targeting them – and they’ll compete with you as soon as you pose a threat to performance competition.

As Schuh’s McMillan concludes: “We’re usually always looking for the next win. And there is always a next win to be had!”


Amazon Fashion's Pop Up Shop Live sets out to influence the influencers

Amazon’s UK fashion presence is far from consolidated. Was Amazon Fashion’s Pop Up Shop Live – its first European foray into physical retail – a successful step in bridging this gap? SHIFT Magazine visited the store on its opening day to find out.

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Amazon Fashion's Pop Up Shop Live sets out to influence the influencers

Amazon is an ecommerce powerhouse, but it’s not as omnipotent as fans and critics of the brand often make out.

Its vice-like grip on the electronic, homeware and publishing sectors is plain to see, but for all its dependable plus points – particularly for its loyal Prime customers – Amazon hasn’t quite capitalised on the fashion market.

The company is clearly aware of this, and to help address the issue this week, it threw open the doors to its one-week-only, high-profile Amazon Fashion Pop Up Shop Live, following a refit of Carousel: Next Door, a 3,300 sq ft event space at 37 Baker St.

That’s Amazon Fashion with a capital F – something this pop-up did everything to emphasise, short of italicising and underlining the word. That said, it did surround the brand name with flashing neon lights, and it’s now being marketed to such a degree that you’d think AmazonFashion.co.uk was a separate website (it isn’t – curiously, this redirects to Amazon.co.uk, not even the fashion department of Amazon.co.uk).


London isn’t the company’s first location for a fashion pop-up, though it’s the first one in Europe, and the biggest Amazon has done to date. New York City’s Flatiron Plaza hosted the brand for three days earlier this month, and the British outing utilised many of the tech tricks first presented by its transatlantic teammate, as well as a similar strategy for product partnerships.

The omnichannel fashion market is wide open – something we discovered in our Retail Experience Score’s 2018 Fashion Analysis – so it’s perhaps no surprise that Amazon saw the perfect opportunity to throw itself into the market with a physical presence, albeit fleetingly. But would five days of fashion pay dividends?

To measure this pop-up’s success here in the UK, it’s important to first understand how the company set out its stall in the heart of the capital.


How Amazon Fashion’s Pop Up Shop Live works

The adapted space – chosen for its high footfall, being on one of the City of Westminster’s busiest streets – offered men’s and women’s clothing, alongside accessories such as watches. The line-up comprised big-name brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Moschino, Pepe Jeans and Libertine-Libertine, as well as Amazon’s own labels.

The store also featured Amazon Fire tablets and interactive “Smile” codes – effectively branded QR codes – to demonstrate the boundlessness between online and in-store purchasing, underlining its omnichannel intentions. Customers could scan clothing codes with the Amazon Shopping app, then order it for home delivery at a time that suited them.

Each item could also be bought in the store itself, but shoppers were encouraged to use the tech provided (or the phones they bring with them), especially because a person’s size might not have been in stock. If it was, they could try it on in the changing rooms provided, and either buy it there or go the traditional Amazon purchase route.


To appeal to the widest audience – and potentially garner repeat visits during the five-day experience – Amazon Fashion created a changing stock line-up for the store itself, as well as an evening event that built even more relationships once store hours end:

  • Tuesday, the day we visited, showcased autumn/winter trends, and hosted London’s own Pepe Jeans and its denim customisation machine. Afterwards, Charlotte de Carle played a DJ set.
  • Wednesday kept the same clothing theme before giving way to a beauty panel discussion hosted by Jessica Diner, Vogue’s beauty and lifestyle director.
  • Thursday saw the store’s direction shift to fitness, sports and wellbeing, complemented by yoga sessions from Ella Mills, founder of Deliciously Ella. A juice bar – not dissimilar to the one offered in LA’s Nordstrom Local – also featured, while expert dieticians were on hand to give people healthy lifestyle tips.
  • Friday and Saturday reflected the weekend vibe with party and streetwear-focused clothing. Meanwhile, makeover and hair appointments were available; a live acoustic set from Tom Grennan on Friday was followed by another from NAO on Saturday evening.


So far, so good. But was it worth the journey?

How did it work in reality?

We arrived on Tuesday afternoon at around 1:30pm, and despite it being past the lunch-hour rush, the place was certainly abuzz. Admittedly, half of the people in there were staff – temps, we discovered, but ones who were clued-up and very helpful nonetheless – while others included a mix of documenters like us and intrigued shoppers.

The selection of clothing – an autumn/winter range – was far from exhaustive, but what was there was painstakingly curated to create sections of complementary clothing, allowing shoppers to envisage a full look or outfit by just browsing the racks. It was clear from the off that Amazon Fashion was keen to underline its authority on the fashion front, not least by proving that the company itself orchestrates its style partnerships, as opposed to companies simply using its platform like any other Amazon third-party seller.

A clear key selling point for the hired guns in store was clarifying the many brands and items that were unique to Amazon Fashion, which were mixed in with headline brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Moschino and Pepe Jeans. Within minutes, one member of staff pointed out a pair of shoes that were only sold by Amazon Fashion.


Most items featured in several different sizes but weren’t available in high volumes; usually, it seemed to be just one item per size. This was because Amazon’s omnichannel ethic was being channelled through Smile codes, encouraging people to get them on their own terms.

Admittedly, we were a little bit indifferent to the idea of these glorified QR codes before entering the store – they never really caught on all those years ago, and still feel like a chore to use now. Yet as an integrated part of the Amazon Shopping app, the Smile codes worked incredibly well; the product page popped up instantly over a mobile data connection.


The tablets, on the other hand, seemed to be more there for show than anything else. Placed a little too high for even my 6’2” frame, they were also awkwardly angled upwards and simply showed the Amazon Shopping page. They will be most likely used by staff to help people find similar ranges and pieces on site, but for the casual browser, they seemed pointless – particularly given the promotion of self-led shopping through the app.

Combined with the often-stark lighting arrangements, the Fire tablets were also difficult to read, though the set-up and layout of the store seemed to be at the mercy of the Carousel space. Fittings were functional at best, and while the largely white décor placed a high emphasis on the clothing, we’d put money on Amazon having a much more personal touch with interior design if it was a permanent store.

The daily bonus on Tuesday – a Pepe Jeans printing machine – was a nice touch, and remarkably clever at that. We saw it at work too, though it was far from the KSP we’d expect from the first day of a huge brand’s PR push. It undoubtedly strengthened its partnership with Pepe Jeans, though, which is perhaps more important in the grand scheme of things.


Finally, the window offered an opportunity for fans, followers and friendly faces to get their photo taken against the ever-recognisable Amazon Smile logo, which was plenty of fun for all involved – and a fantastic way to get the Amazon logo behind any influencers expected at the store that day.

Will Amazon Fashion have a place on the high street?

To put it bluntly: no. Certainly not in this format, but we don’t think that was ever the intention. Despite Amazon Fashion Europe VP Susan Saidemann’s coy “never say never” comment to Vogue, it’s clear that this exercise only needs a week to fulfil its purpose.

In the weeks before it opened, Amazon’s pop-up store had already impressed the press. Alongside Vogue, it was covered by London’s own Evening Standard, specialist publications like Retail Gazette, FashionUnited and Retail Focus, as well as nationals like the Guardian. And here we are, telling you about it ourselves.

But Amazon Fashion isn’t trying to grab the a piece of the high-street market – it’s trying to grab the attention of influencers, be they traditional press or the newer faces of authority that now shape the thoughts and feelings of millions through digital channels. The company has done a brilliant job of it, too, even if a lot of the things it learns from the experience won’t be discovered for weeks or months after the experiment.

In the time we were visiting the store, we didn’t see a single purchase being made. What we did see was an influencer filming a segment outside the store, two more socialites being photographed in the curated set in the window, and a few others taking notes.


Amazon Fashion’s concept simply wants people to remember that it exists. Next time a customer orders a last-minute, face-saving birthday present on Prime, or picks up a DVD for £6 after spotting it in a shop for £8, it wants them to remember they can also get their favourite designer’s latest threads in the size they want, delivered the next day in the same package.

As such, it’s hard not to say the store was a huge success. Our visit to the store was very much a pleasant one, as it championed the benefits of omnichannel, the plus points of the Amazon model, and presumably entertained plenty of people both day and night with its themes and events.

What’s next for Amazon in the UK?

While a permanent high-street store doesn’t seem likely, Amazon continues to do Britain huge favours, most notably with the creation of 1,000 roles in Manchester, Cambridge and Edinburgh. These won’t be in bricks-and-mortar retail; jobs are being created in software development, machine learning, online advertising, personalised shopping, Alexa development, cloud computing and drone deliveries.

If that’s not a strong indicator of Amazon’s true direction in the years to come, we don’t know what is. However, this may have been the last time Amazon appears on the British high street for a long time, if ever again.

However, you shouldn’t be surprised if “AmazonFashion.co.uk” stops redirecting to Amazon.co.uk and becomes a store page in its own right soon – Pop Up Shop Live doesn’t feel like the culmination of momentum, but rather a move to get the ball rolling in the first place.