Retailers Beware: Strong Correlation Between Slow Network Speed and Brand Perception
January 10, 2014

Pete Goldin

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Network speed deeply impacts consumers at every phase of the transaction process, particularly users of mobile devices, according to a new report by Radware.

The report, entitled Mobile Web Stress: The Impact of Network Speed on Emotional Engagement and Brand Perception, shows that even moderately slower connection speeds result in significant increases in user frustration and decreases in engagement.

In order to accurately assess consumers' neurological and emotional reactions to slow load times, this unique study was conducted using a set of methodologies — electroencephalography (EEG) and eyetracking technologies combined with Implicit Response Testing — to examine how, on a moment-by-moment basis, positive and negative emotions are triggered.

Using specialized software, researchers slowed down the network speed on mobile devices and compared the experience to a standard wireless connection. Slow-loading sites were tested using the latest consumer neuroscience techniques to elicit response patterns and emotional engagement at a non-conscious level.

“Our study proves that brand perception is based on more than a powerful logo or smart marketing strategy,” said Tammy Everts, web performance evangelist, Radware. “A consumer’s online shopping experience greatly affects their feelings about a retailer, and because these feeling are happening at a non-conscious, pre-cognitive level, they are beyond the control of site owners. A slow site and poor user interface can be detrimental – potentially negating other, more expensive, branding efforts.”

Sites of four major UK brands were tested as part of this study: John Lewis, Tesco, EasyJet and Ryanair. The study incorporated several methodologies and analyzed the emotional engagement, positive and negative responses, and attitudes and associations of users when asked to complete tasks on the brands’ sites.

Key findings from the study include:

- Slow connection speeds are likely to lead to higher levels of frustration and lower levels of emotional engagement. Browsing is twice as likely as the checkout to be frustrating when slow.

- The negative impact of slow network speed is not restricted to just the immediate customer frustration and loss of business through the site – it deeply impacts the long-term brand perception of the retailer, making potential customers less likely to return.

- Slow performance affected non-performance issues such as quality of content, visual design, and ease of navigation.

- The brand damage inflicted by slow sites and poor user experience can translate directly to negative impact on purchase intent across other channels and touch points.

“These findings should be a huge red flag for retail brand managers, especially as mobile is at the point of overtaking desktop in terms of user share,” added Everts. “More than ever, people are browsing and buying on mobile, and slow pages are one of the top issues that mobile users complain about.”

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