Retail Web sites were perkier this Christmas than they were last year, according to tests conducted by Keynote Systems, a firm that measures Web-site performance. Figures released this week measured how long it took, in seconds, for a site's home page to show up in a user's browser, as well as the percentage success rate for how often a site could be accessed.

Among the 30-plus sites Keynote tracked this year, Victoriassecret.com was tops in performance, averaging just under 1 second to open its home page. Landsend.com had the highest availability - customers could access the site 99.6 per cent of the time.

The slowest site averaged a performance of 7.8 seconds over a five-week period and was inaccessible about 29 per cent of the time.

"The 10 retail sites we measured last year had some highly visible site problems in November [of 1999]," said Daniel Todd, Keynote's chief technologist for public services. That contrasted with the week preceding US Thanksgiving this year, Todd said, which was 66.24 per cent better overall than the corresponding week last year.

Thanksgiving week itself was 10.75 per cent better than the same week in 1999, Todd said, while the week following Thanksgiving this year improved by 23.94 per cent. The first week of December saw a 21.32 per cent boost in performance.

However, there's still plenty of room for improvement, Todd said. During the week of Dec. 9, for example, one high-profile site slowed by more than 63 per cent to 7.34 seconds, while another brick-and-mortar retailer saw its site successfully accessed only 50.6 per cent of the time.

But even this year's laggards had some improvement week to week, Todd said. Performance for all sites, he said, averaged less than 8 seconds, which is a recognized throughout the industry as a standard rule of thumb - in general, he said, "users will click away from a site if the page does not download within eight seconds."