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How to attract and retain online consumers

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The increasing ubiquity of online services and products, even in a market like South Africa where bandwidth is disproportionately expensive, has heightened the importance of creating websites that are capable of handling large amounts of traffic.

Kezia Crawford-Cousins, Qualica Technologies director, says there are a number of key factors that corporates and online retailers should consider when constructing a website to service their customers.
“A website’s ability to perform adequately under stress is a function of three main factors: network stability, hardware and software architecture,” he says. “These can all have an influence, particularly on load times, which could result in users looking for other sites should their intended URL not open fast enough. Along with design-related factors such as navigability, these performance issues will have a significant effect on the rate at which consumers return to your site.”
According to a study of over 1000 overseas online shoppers by Jupiter Research, 75% of shoppers would go elsewhere if the site took longer than four seconds to load. In terms of priorities, “poor load times” was ranked second only to high product prices and shipping costs as a factor causing dissatisfaction among online shoppers.
“While South Africans may be prepared to wait longer given the absence of true broadband in this country, the principle still applies,” he says.
Qualica designed and maintains the backend of 1time airlines’ website. Crawford-Cousins says being responsible for the 1time website has given Qualica insight into the process of building and maintaining a site capable of carrying large amounts of traffic.
One of the most prominent challenges faced by websites in South Africa is the lack of bandwidth. Many sites with content management systems, booking systems and billing interfaces are hosted overseas in places like the UK and connect to the locally hosted website through a virtual private network (VPN).
“This can create capacity issues if sufficient bandwidth is not purchased for the link between the website front end and the backend overseas where the information is stored,” Crawford-Cousins says. “In this case even if well designed hardware and software architecture is in place, the site could still perform poorly.”
The Jupiter Research report also states:
* Roughly half of mature online shoppers identify page loading time as one of their top priorities for online sites;
* 46% of online shoppers insist on a rapid checkout process; and
* 65% indicated they are likely to return to a site that is easy to navigate, particularly during the registration, log-in and checkout processes.