An airtight online retail plan

The new online battleground for the consumer’s wallet is a minefield of risks for e-tailers and pushing through a half-baked plan can do more damage than good.

There is no denying the value and importance of a company’s online presence, especially in today’s economic climate. While many bricks & mortar retailers are feeling the pinch of cautious consumer spending, online retailers such as eBay are performing very well, and expect record sales in the lead up to Christmas.

According to its Secure Insights report, online payment system PayPal has forecasted Australia’s online commerce will reach $30 billion by the end of the year, having grown 11 per cent over the last year.

However, as more local and international retailers open their virtual store doors to Australians, the new online battleground for the consumer’s wallet also brings risks and challenges to e-tailers and their reputation.

If they get it wrong online, the potential for backlash against the brand is instant, costly and can come from many directions; from loyal

Italian designer brand Versace was on the receiving end recently during the launch of a brand new clothing range at European fashion retail chain, H&M.

Amidst the craze of in-store purchasing the online store received unprecedented demand and crashed. A spokesperson for H&M took to Twitter to apologise for 'technical problems', saying they were 'working hard to solve them.'

 

 

 

The fiasco raises some obvious questions: how did this happen in the first place and what could H&M have done to prevent it?

Website failures

Website failures usually occur when backend applications that run the sites have not been rigorously tested and optimised to cope with the varying loads. Website outages are obviously catastrophic for retailers - in the short term, there’s loss of revenue as shoppers vote with their feet. In fact, recent research in the UK puts the potential loss at a huge £36.7 billion ($57.4 billion) per year if websites were to crash a peak times. This is a huge figure, but not the only cost.

There is also the cost to the brand. If a company’s website doesn't perform to user expectations it’s far easier for customers to look elsewhere and vote with their clicks online than it is with their feet on the high street.

In today’s social media world it is much easier for customers to voice their complaints to a much larger audience. Companies need to make sure that their websites are able to withstand high amounts of traffic at peak periods, as well as being able to work to a standard the customer now expects online - a new minimum standard is being set.  

Performance testing

Testing should form a comprehensive part of any e-tail outlet. Performance is a vital part of ensuring a business is a success online which should not be left to chance. It seems obvious that the test quality should reflect the true environment. For example, if you have a website with complex rules, those rules need to be exactly simulated at the point of testing.

Many e-retailers do not invest enough in the testing phase; testing measures that are put in place have too simple a set of instructions and don’t reflect what will be required in situ. This is an expensive error businesses in the UK already incur almost £100 million ($157.6 million) of e-commerce revenue losses every year as a result of website failures and outages.

Traditional approaches to website and software testing required a large investment in infrastructure to replicate the peak volumes. Now, new software packages that allow for testing in the cloud enable teams to rapidly launch any size peak-load performance test without having to set up and manage complex infrastructures.

Instead of investing in hardware that is not used for a large portion of the time, businesses can schedule the testing time for their required user volume on demand – only paying for what they use, when they need it. Adopting these ‘pay as you go’ performance testing methods mean the IT department has no reason not to deliver a website that does what is intended to do. 

Online success

Performance testing is imperative for websites to perform as expected in the real world. In particular, business critical applications need thorough testing to ensure they can bear the stresses and strains of the varying online demands that companies have for their products and services.

Having a slick, robust website is vitally important for businesses today. Companies must not only protect against any potential loss of revenue in the short term, caused by website outages, but also protect their brand and reputation in the longer term by ensuring a better customer experience online. This can only be guaranteed through comprehensive testing which can ultimately lead to a greater competitive advantage.

Bruce Craig is Micro Focus’ country general manager for Australia and New Zealand.

 

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