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Large e-commerce sites have "deciphered some very successful formulas for giving users what they want," according to a new benchmark report from ClickTale, a provider of customer experience analytics and web analytics services.

Chalk it up to higher investments in testing and optimization -- and their abilities to attract higher shares of returning visitors.

Low Time on Site a Good Thing?

Perhaps the most insightful portion of the ClickTale Web Analytics Q2 2013 Benchmark report is the notion that it's not necessarily a bad thing if visitors spend only a short time on a site. Here's why. If a low time on site ranking is combined with a low bounce rate, then it simply suggests customers are finding what they need and quickly moving to checkout.

By testing and optimizing their customer experiences, large e-commerce sites may have found the proverbial sweet spot when it comes to crafting their page designs. The world's top e-commerce websites — "the industry’s 500-pound gorillas" — outperform smaller peers three to one on bounce rate and they manage to get users twice as active, even though those users spend less time on their sites. 

Data produced by the report was compiled between April and June this year, though it's not clear exactly how many sites the report actually viewed. The number given is simply listed as thousands, which we will assume means less than 10,000. ClickTale analyzed data from its own customers' websites to measure which strategies works and which ones do not.

In this case, ClickTale e-commerce websites that rank among the top 10,000 according to Alexa, a company that provides commercial web traffic data, perform much better than their less mature peers. Specifically, these large sites:

  • Have one third the bounce rate of smaller websites
  • Visitors spend only 70 seconds on a page on average, compared to three minutes on pages on other websites — a sign customers are finding what they are looking for faster
  • During their brief visits, visitors are active 23 percent of the time compared with only 12 percent to 13 percent on other websites

Large e-Commmerce Sites Master Web Analytics
Bounce rate by industry. Notice e-commerce is in the top five.

Size Matters in E-Commerce

It's expensive to operate large e-commerce sites, factoring in investment in artwork, a content management system (CMS), databases and fast servers. However, it seems to pay off because these sites have bounce rates of only 9.4 percent. For e-commerce sites that rank between the top 10,000 to 50,000 according to Alexa, the rate jumps to 27.7 percent. Furthermore, e-commerce sites that rank between the top 50,000 to 100,000 according to Alexa see bounce rates of 52.7 percent.

Of course, this doesn't tell us why people bounce from those sites, and indeed this is one of the shortcomings of the bounce rate metric overall. Still, it's a valuable baseline by which websites can be measured, and one that is more or less self explanatory to just about anyone.

Low bounce rates show better page design and usability, but when time on page is looked at, this view becomes clearer. For most websites, low time on page can mean a poor user experience, but when that statistic shows up in conjunction with low bounce rates, it can be inferred there is good design on that site, the report found.

Beside the more common bounce rate and time on site metrics, ClickTale also employs its own technology to measure how engaged people are on a particular page. ClickTale can tell how engaged people are by if they move their mouse, click, scroll or enter text.

When people go to large e-commerce sites, they tend to be active 23 percent of the time. That compares to about 12.5 percent on average for smaller sites. It all adds up to the fact large sites have found a winning formula for getting people active and engaged on their sites. Smaller websites have to take advantage of the fact they are a bit more agile, and start testing and optimizing their sites to see the same gains as their larger brethren.

Image Credit: PlusONE / Shutterstock