Tesco, Amazon, Toys R Us – who won the online race at Christmas?

By Mark Gunn, Compuware.

Despite the recent negative retail stories about the gamut of businesses due to go into administration, one clear winner in the retail space over Christmas was Tesco. It recorded a 1.8% rise in like-for-like UK sales over the period, with the majority coming from food sales. Incidentally, it has given a lot of credit to 'online' as a key driver of sales over Christmas and has spoken publicly and explicitly of the key role 'digital' will play in the future, not just for Tesco but the sector as a whole.

Additionally, towards the end of 2012 Amazon.co.uk reported it had seen purchases on Christmas Day increase by 263% over the last five years, and that it expected Christmas Day 2012 sales to be the busiest to date, echoing how vital online trading has become.

While these two retail giants rely heavily on their online sales, Toy R Us appears to have a different opinion of online as a channel. Toys R Us CEO, Jerry Storch, received attention from the international business press in November, when he hit out at the concept of online shopping claiming it was "ungreen".

Although this is something people quibble over, sales figures don't lie. Toys R Us reported that same-store sales in the US dropped 1.8% in December, which it attributed to weak demand in its entertainment category (electronics, videogames, hardware and software). Closer to home, in Europe and Japan same-store sales dropped by 3.5%.

While I'm sure the poor sales can't solely be attributed to the CEO's opinion of ecommerce, it does lead me to wonder about their online strategy and the role it played over Christmas.

With this in mind how did these brands' website landing pages perform over December?

Benchmarking performance

Compuware Gomez tested the web performance of 49 ecommerce websites' landing pages from 1 December through to 31 December. Sites it evaluated included: Tesco, Amazon, Toys R Us, Apple, Argos and HMV. It measured how each performed on the Last Mile (the end user perspective) by monitoring landing page response times and availability.

Both these measurements are significant because slow or unavailable sites can result in significant revenue losses. So how did they fare?

December web performance

While the benchmark's average response time was 5.79 seconds, the top five fastest websites were: Tesco (1.55 secs), Shopzilla UK (1.99 secs), Apple UK (2.50 secs), Bizrate (2.59 secs) and Argos (2.73 secs). The slowest five were: Ticketmaster UK (13.54 secs), New Look (10.89 secs), Game (10.88 secs), Halfords (9.8 secs) and Topshop (9.2 secs).

Interestingly, despite anticipating excellent sales, Amazon's average speed for December was below the benchmark average at 6.03 seconds and Toys R Us was above the average, taking 4.33 seconds.

Average availability of the sites within the benchmark was 99.52 per cent. The most available websites within the benchmark were: AVG (99.92%), SupaPrice (99.89%), MandMDirect (99.87%), Bizrate (99.86%) and Hewlett Packard (99.84%). The least available sites were: ASDA (97.89%), Ticketmaster UK (98.22%), Maplin (98.35%), HMV (99.12%) and Sports Direct (99.13%).

As for Tesco, Amazon and Toys R Us' availability throughout December, respectively they were: 99.73%, 99.75% and 99.64%, all well above 99.52% and very respectable figures.

Web performance over the Christmas week

Over the course of the Christmas week (w/c: 24 December) web performance differed across the board. This is how Tesco, Amazon and Toys R Us performed:

According our data Tesco experienced a fairly smooth week apart from the 26th December when its landing page appeared to take a long time to load (more than 10 seconds).

Toys R Us' performance was generally inconsistent and it experienced a major fault with its site on the 28th December with its landing page taking more than 14 seconds to load.

Amazon's performance, ironically, was not the best during this week. Its performance was very inconsistent and its site experiences several peaks and troughs in performance. We know this because when we measured its response time it was up and down just about every day, ranging from below 4 seconds on some days to 18 seconds on others. For such a prolific ecommerce vendor, this isn't ideal.


As digital plays an ever more crucial role within the retail space its clear retailers must pay attention to the online customer performance they are delivering. As a starting point, they need to ensure they benchmark current web performance against competitors and get a clear handle on where customers are accessing their site from and what types of devices they are using. Doing this will help ensure that their online properties are not just 'open' for business, but that they are selling as well.


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