Prepare Your E-Commerce Site for the Holidays, with Expert Advice from TestArmy!
The holiday season is approaching, and with the holidays comes the busiest time of year for e-commerce sites. But with most of the shopping taking place in a matter of two months, how do you reassure yourself that you’ve done everything possible to ensure a great experience for your customers? Fear not, we have you covered! Check out what our experts recommend to make sure that your site’s holiday season goes off without a hitch!
The fever of preparation and work on strategies that aim to increase website traffic and most importantly, sales, is what pays the bills of any e-commerce site during the holiday season. Data from rjmetrics* shows that traffic in online stores increases in November, while the number of purchases decisively increase during Black Friday (first Friday after Thanksgiving) and Cyber Monday (first Monday after Thanksgiving). This trend continues until the end of December. As a result, November and December are 30% more profitable than the rest of the year. This data is also confirmed by search data from Google Trends for the shopping industry:
It’s worth noting that increased traffic to your website and increased usage of your shopping carts also contains challenges to their security, performance and usability. We asked our experts about the dangers and challenges of increased traffic and the hottest period of the year facing e-commerce. See what they had to say!
“Detect the problem before your customers do!” -Jacek Okrojek, Performance Specialist
Jacek Okrojek: Specializes in Performance, Test Automation and has been a Test Manager since 2004. As a consultant, he has participated in numerous projects in various industries and is also an experienced instructor.
Who may be concerned about performance issues?
The idea that the problem only concerns large stores is a common fallacy. During periods of increased shopping, performance issues may also affect smaller stores. Even if the bugs go unreported, customers who are in a hurry to choose gifts may be impatient and will choose a similar product from another service that operates faster. The worst part is that owners who have performance issues are often unaware of them, which ends up costing them potential profits.
How do you recognize if there are performance problems on your site?
The first symptom of inadequate performance is the slowdown of the store. Users are forced to wait longer for pages to display. The next step is the errors in the operation of individual functions. For example, the shop informs a user that it cannot add a product to the cart, or after adding the product the user does not receive any confirmation of the action. In extreme cases, all system functions become unavailable.
What should you test?
You should check how the page display times fluctuate under increasing loads. Amazon studies show that an increased response time of even 100ms can result in a loss of 1% of customers. In our tests, we often notice that the load on a system increases the display time of pages by a few seconds. There’s no need to test all system features, you should focus on a few key features. These key features are the home page, product search and basket processing. We also check how often and at what load errors appear.
What to keep an eye out for:
The time to download the html file of the site, which is the metric reported by many tools is becoming less and less important. It’s important for the browser to be able to display the content of the page and more precisely, the elements that are most important to the user. In the case of online stores, these will be “call to action” elements, such as the “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now” buttons.
Also, check how fast the site appears on mobile devices. In addition to the speed of the site, it is also worth noting how quickly competing stores operate. We often start our projects by analyzing the competition.
Is there a need to have a special environment for performance testing?
A special environment is not necessary. We often test on production environments. Depending on the capabilities of the infrastructure and scope of the tests, we try to find ways to test the system not visible to customers. Tests on production environments require precise planning and coordination, but we have experience in this and we often help our customers organize such tests.
How long does a performance test take?
Test preparation does not take any longer than 2 weeks, and the test itself is usually conducted in one day. Afterwards, we analyze the results and prepare the report, which takes us about 2-3 days.
Is performance testing enough?
Performance testing is not everything. However, it’s worthwhile to monitor the display times of your own website and your competitors’ sites so that you do not fall behind. We are very interested in improving the efficiency of e-shops, and this includes performance testing. In Poland, more and more customers are beginning to realize that investing in performance testing is profitable. Very often, minor changes to the site significantly improve its’ functionality.
“Secure yourself and your customers.” -Sebastian Gilon, Director of IT Security
Sebastian Gilon: Co-Owner and Director of IT Security at TestArmy. He is an ethical hacker with a mountain of experience. On a daily basis he performs penetration tests and security audits for banks, corporations, financial institutions and e-commerce services.
Are shops more vulnerable to attacks during the holidays?
Increased traffic in online stores during the holiday seasons makes them a more attractive target for “dishonest” behavior than the rest of the year. From a hacker’s perspective, one attack in December can bring more benefits resulting from higher e-commerce turnover and more logged users in systems. Year after year, we observe increasing activity of organized hacking groups, and some of them attack shops for no particular reason.
For example, in 2014, a group called R.I.U. Star Patrol organized a DDoS attack on PlayStation and Xbox networks. Interestingly, the group previously announced their intention on YouTube, mentioning that they were doing it mainly because they could. However, it should be remembered that attacks may also come from the competition, and small shops may be exposed. The increased spending in online stores during the holiday season entices everyone to try and grab a bigger piece of the pie, which can lead to dishonest behavior.
What kind of dishonest behavior exactly?
A common attack is the previously mentioned DDoS attack. This is done to impede or prevent access to data. It would seem that it is not as dangerous as direct theft of customer data, but this type of attack can also bring big losses. An example might be a jewelry store with a large number of products. A successful DDoS attack will increase the server load, resulting in long loading times. Irritated customers will mostly likely give up on this site and go to a competitor’s site costing the first company potential business.
Keep in mind that attack methods are constantly evolving and they really depend on the creativity of the hackers. They usually use gaps in the code that have gone unnoticed by developers, so it’s worth to conduct testing using “ethical hackers”.
What is the purpose of the attacks?
In addition to DDoS attacks, the immediately apparent goal of attacks is the personal information of the customers. This includes login data, emails, passwords, phone numbers and addresses. Data collected from these attacks are sold on the black market or used for their attackers’ own reasons. For example, once you know the address of the home that the customer gives as the shipping address, you can substitute this address and send the product to another location.
A much more serious example is the theft of authorization data for payment systems such as PayPal. Knowing this data can result in the transfer of all funds to another account. Another form of an attack is to change the content of the page, resulting in the infection of the system, and consequently, the customer’s computer. In addition, another problem can be the acquisition of the source code page, which in the worst-case scenario can be sold on the black market.
What to look for, and how to secure yourself and your customers?
Most e-commerce owners and customers already know that it’s necessary to have a SSL/TLS certificate. With that certificate, we give our users a guarantee that they are using a secure, encrypted connection. It is also important to use secure payment service providers and to thoroughly test the way payments are handled. It’s also good to encourage or even force users to use secure and strong passwords that will be harder for hackers to crack. In the case of smaller stores, it’s common practice to use shared hosting, but that is also risky and can lead to data leakage.
When running an e-commerce site, it’s recommended to create a security policy that includes rules for keeping your customers’ data safe, sending them passwords and creating regular backups on servers other than the store itself. In order to prevent security breaches, it helps to employ the help of “ethical hackers”. They carry out controlled attacks on the system and will discover any weaknesses that will enable your security team to improve and protect customers’ data and the reputation of your firm.
“Test Changes and Increase Conversion.” -Paulina Solecka, UX Expert
Paulina Solecka: A UX expert who has been with TestArmy for 2 years. Everyday she investigates the usefulness of websites, e-commerce portals, and mobile applications. Together with the rest of the UX team, she works with brands like Empik.com, OLX, Otodom and Yves-Rocher.
What could go wrong if the store has usability issues?
Everything! Maybe your customers are unable to find the product they are looking for on your website because your search engine is not flexible. Maybe the product card doesn’t contain enough important information. Are you sure that the forms are working properly and that your users will know how to complete them? Or maybe the checkout process is so complicated that the users will give up shopping halfway through the process. All of these are examples of things that your customers could come face-to-face with if your site is riddled with usability issues.
So what should I test?
The most sensitive moment for the user is the so-called “shopping funnel.” This is the process that the user has to navigate from the shopping cart to the completion of the transaction. Any distraction that a user encounters during this process may result in them walking away from their cart. Testing and monitoring the usability of this critical “funnel” should be carried out especially in the context of Christmas and follow-up gift shopping.
How do I prevent mistakes and protect myself from “abandoned carts?”
To put it simply: test, test and test again! As they say: no page, portal or mobile app is 100% complete. You can always improve something and thus increase engagement and satisfaction. A satisfied customer is the biggest conversion you can have, especially during the rush of pre-Christmas shopping.
What to look for when looking for a testing partner:
It’s important that the company is able to select a group of testers that matches your target group for the testing process. Feedback from these real or potential users will be the most valuable information for you, because after all, why would you ask a person who’s never owned a dog which type of dog food you should buy?
“Keep up the quality from the very beginning.” -Lukasz Pietrucha, Head of QA
Lukasz Pietrucha: Head of QA in TestArmy. With more than 12 years of experience in QA he has worked in many industries as a tester, analyst, team leader and project manager. He is also the co-founder of WrotQA and an accredited ISTQB trainer.
What are the challenges facing e-commerce during Christmas?
Every respected retailer is aware that during the Holiday season everyone is dealing with increased traffic. Therefore, the probability of users encountering problems in your system is higher than average. We have seen a growing trend over the past several years in which mobile devices are becoming more dominant in our everyday lives. It’s in this area that I believe e-commerce sites have the biggest chance for errors – the ever-growing number of manufacturers, operating systems and the resolution of mobile devices is enough keep many developers awake at night.
What to test and what to keep an eye out for?
First of all, you need to pay attention to basic business processes. In the event of the sale of goods/services, the basic business process is the ability of the customer to purchase the goods in question. It is also important to properly handle payments – in the end, no one wants to be in a situation where the purchase went wrong or the wrong amount of money was deducted from a customer’s account.
Are problems only related to the payment process?
During periods of intense traffic, stressful shopping experiences for users often draws more attention to minor inconveniences, which can frustrate customers. Examples would include functionalities like the search engine, or the proper sorting and filtering of products. Make sure they work well before crowds of potential customers will use them.
How to prevent mistakes in this area?
From the beginning, it’s important to place emphasis on quality processes: good communication to understand requirements and to avoid future misunderstandings. You can also pause for a moment and determine which platforms your target audience is interested in. It may be helpful to look at the market from this point of view or to use popular tools for collecting statistics. Utilizing professionally conducted functional tests before releasing the site also helps reduce the risk of failure.
The e-commerce market in Poland has been growing for several years. According to the September 2017 Gemius report, more than half of internet users buy goods/services in e-shops**. Along with the increasing number of customers, the number of stores is also increasing. Therefore, a priority is being place on converting one-time customers into loyal customers who will likely frequent your site. In order to accomplish this and to separate your site from the competition, it’s important to emphasize providing a fast, easy and secure shopping experience. Implementing comprehensive store tests will help reduce the number of errors on pages, which in turn, enables users to make seamless and secure transactions.