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CIOs can Meet Gen Z’s Demand for Digital Speed

The cohort of Americans born between 1996 and 2010, often called Generation Z or Gen Zers is the first generation to have grown up in a truly digital world. They don’t know a life without smartphones, social media, or on-demand entertainment. They expect technology to work seamlessly — and when it doesn’t, they don’t use it. Your CIO can meet Gen Z’s demand for digital speed.

Members of Gen Z live online, mostly on social media feeds and other experiences that are unique to them.

A personalized web, where users’ experiences are tailored to their online histories, is the norm, and they aren’t afraid to trade data for that optimal experience. Not surprisingly, the companies that are most focused into harnessing the power of data — think Instagram, Amazon, and Spotify — are now being rewarded by Gen Z spenders.

Speaking of focus — Gen Zers tend not to have it.

The average attention span of a Gen Z American is about eight seconds. By comparison, their Millennial predecessors seem like monks, with a zenlike attention span of roughly 12 seconds. But what the youngest generation lacks in focus they make up for in influence: Gen Z Americans comprise a quarter of the population but influence 93 percent of household spending, according to WP Engine, and account for roughly $143 billion in buying power. That’s why knowing what they want is vital to any consumer company hoping to survive the next few years and beyond.

The ‘Eight-Second Rule’

With 71% of Gen Zers streaming videos for three-plus hours a day, mostly on mobile, and more than half spending an equivalent amount of time on social networks and messaging apps, the speed in which you deliver your experience is crucial. Ericsson researchers found that delays in loading webpages and videos on mobile create the same psychological discomfort as watching a horror movie. Don’t scare customers away: Invest in optimizing website page load time, especially when served on mobile networks.

Luckily, this generation has made it clear what they want from brands: They demand fast, personalized digital experiences.

Gen Zers demand fast experiences, but that’s not all they require. They crave personalization and are more than willing to share their data to get it. WP Engine reports that 68% of Gen Zers believe websites should be able to predict their wants, and 44% will explicitly provide data to allow for a more personalized experience. They want customized website experiences that are intuitive, robust, and fast, regardless of network quality.

Unfortunately, providing a highly personalized experience competes with achieving speedy page loads.

Inevitably, the trackers and scripts that enable personalization increase loading times — more code needs to be loaded on the page to determine how it will be personalized. And personal content is harder to cache in the browser and the content delivery network, or CDN.

CIOs of today’s consumer brands are competing with the bar set by Instagram. They need to offer the same “just for her” content nearly instantly to maximize the eight seconds of attention she will give that content before “bouncing” (likely to Instagram). Think about it this way: The gold standard for website loading time is about two seconds, meaning you have only six seconds left to push visitors down the path to purchase before you lose their attention.

Sifting Through the Technical Landscape

The average shopper on an eCommerce website will spend about three minutes browsing through six pages, according to the 2019 Wolfgang Digital KPI report. About 21% of that time is spent waiting for a new page to load. Companies are experimenting with several new technologies to reduce this unproductive time.

Today, it is possible to cut that wait time down to only 5% when optimizing website speed across the stack.

Technologies such as progressive web apps (PWAs), server-side rendering (SSR), customer journey predictions, and accelerated mobile pages (AMP) can be combined to deliver sub-second page loads from the moment a visitor lands on your site through checkout.

Integrating these technologies is often easier said than done, however.

AMP and PWA are as different as apples and oranges, and more often than not, companies that try to support both PWA and AMP content find themselves primarily supporting two websites. SSR is also difficult to add to a site after it’s been built. It typically requires rearchitecting the site and adding a Node.js tier, which must be managed to meet traffic spikes — think Cyber Monday — which are common in eCommerce.

Fortunately, a few solutions can help websites achieve incredible speeds by optimizing page load times on the client, server, and CDN levels.

But the vast majority do not support highly personalized websites, where the experience is delivered dynamically based on data. While we have worked to address this challenge with the Moovweb XDN, few solutions have followed suit. Some, such as Amazon’s Lambda@Edge, have tried, but these solutions were not built specifically for the requirements and needs of enterprise eCommerce companies.

Delivering a Fast Yet Personalized Experience

Gen Zers have created new digital standards that most web users have come to see as the new normal. That means retailers need to prioritize building a digital-first infrastructure that includes personalized websites — sites where each user’s experience is determined by her history and preferences — that load in the blink of an eye.

If you’re ready to make that your brand’s reality, there are a few strategies you can use to make the transition smooth.

First, you must accept that website speed optimization is a full-stack problem that spans the browser, edge (CDN), and server. Therefore, a full-stack approach to websites’ speed that touches on each of these three layers is needed to deliver nearly instantaneous personalized experiences. Adding a CDN without addressing the browsing and server won’t cut it.

To optimize the time it takes a browser to load your website, look into adopting a PWA.

PWAs combine the ease of a web browsing experience with the speed of a mobile app. PWAs offer insane page load speeds. They use service workers to give you direct control over browser networking and caching, and they can prefetch content when a user is idle. Predictive prefetching helps your website stay a few taps ahead of the user and is critical to an experience that feels instantaneous.

To get the best performance out of your content delivery network (CDN), you need to cache intelligently.

Caching intelligently means that you get optimal cache hit rates from your CDN’s infrastructure. For example, suppose you are personalizing your homepage differently for new anonymous visitors, repeat anonymous visitors and logged-in customers. You’ll want to make sure your CDN can “split” the cache so that each version of the homepage has a version in the CDN cache that can be served up quickly to users.

A typical scenario is personalized content preventing a page from being cached.

In this case, you should populate the CDN with the nonpersonalized form of the page and late-load the personalized content. Finally, CDNs typically view URLs with tracking parameters as distinct pages, which can break your caching unless you explicitly configure the parameters to be ignored.

As you can tell from these examples, the sophistication and complexity of these rules for an eCommerce site can get unwieldy to manage in the control panel of a traditional CDN, which is precisely why you need to bring intelligence into the edge.

Lastly, you need to optimize the server by going headless and adopting a microservice architecture.

headless eCommerce architecture is one that decouples the site’s presentation layer from its functionality on the backend. This approach presents a couple of great advantages. By going headless, teams can separate the APIs that deliver personalized data from those that do not, allowing for improved speed and customization.

Going headless will also improve enterprise agility and shorten launch times.

No dependency between the frontend and backend means your developers will be dealing with a more manageable code base that’s easier to upgrade and modify without breaking your site or slowing it down. Venus Fashion, a Florida-based swimwear, and apparel eCommerce retailer, adopted these technologies.

Adopting the headless technologies helps to deliver a median page load under half a second on the mobile web.

Using page transitions taking 300 milliseconds — all while offering real-time inventory lookups, personalized promotions, and rich imagery will help you capture the imagination and speed necessary for the Gen Z user. Keep in mind that all user will eventually adopt and demand what the Gen Zers demand now.

Facing the Digital Future

Consumers have come to expect instant gratification because forward-thinking tech companies have continued to give it to them.

For CIOs and eCommerce leaders looking to keep up with increasing digital demands, the key lies in delivering faster, more personalized online experiences. You’re competing with nearly every other company on the planet for consumers’ attention — you need to provide an incredible experience to get it.

Ajay Kapur

Ajay Kapur

Co-Founder and CEO at Moovweb

Ajay Kapur is co-founder and CEO of Moovweb. The Moovweb Experience Delivery Network (XDN), Moovweb’s flagship product, is a platform-as-a-service that enables sub-second dynamic websites for eCommerce, financial services, and travel.

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