It’s hard to believe that the holidays are right around the corner. Because Summer is the season that many retailers update and upgrade their applications as they prepare for the impending tsunami of holiday shopping, now is a great time to consider the trends that will dominate the 2018 shopping season and why you should be thinking about performance testing for mobile.
Use History as a Guide. It Always Repeats Itself.
Remember Best Buy’s Black Friday website crash in 2014? What about the Lowe’s crash of 2017? In both these instances, many customers had full carts – they wanted to check out but couldn’t. That’s not only frustrating customer experience but also every retailer’s worst nightmare. Downtime is money lost – potentially to a competitor whose website works flawlessly.
Consider that on Black Friday 2017, consumers spent a record $5.03 billion online, a 16.9% increase over the $4.3 billion spent in 2016, according to Adobe Analytics. With every analyst projecting even more online spending in 2018, online retailers need to prepare for intense holiday traffic.
Website performance provides the foundation for any retail shopping experience. When retail vendor websites fail to attain the required performance or to scale under load, the failure can remain a blight on their brand. Invest the time and resources to ensure holiday readiness. Apply performance and load testing scenarios to application launch times, page load times, server-side content loading and overall performance under different network conditions.
Top 2018 Holiday Shopping Trends
So what trends do retailers expect to see in 2018 holiday shopping season? Here are a few predictions from Vend University:
- “Chore” shopping will become easier by streamlining the routine component of online ordering. Buying the commodities, we use every day will become less burdensome through the use of website capabilities such as automatic order renewals, one-tap purchases, and same-day delivery.
- “Cherish” shopping will be fulfilled by incredible in-store experiences. Brick and mortars will need to focus on experiences that combine social interactions, augmented and virtual reality, and great products to attract in-store shoppers. Opportunities will arise for both brick and mortar and online artisan vendors who create vibrant and diverse products and experiences that cater to their clientele.
Personalization will be huge. The concept of personalization transcends using the customer’s name on vendor website pages and confirmation emails. The new frontiers of customization will focus on technologies that allow customers to customize or build their products that incorporate their preferences and styles. Many online clothing tailors offer these services already – measure yourself, select your preferred fabric and style, and order online for the perfect fit.
Some other trends and developments are bound to influence shopping this holiday season:
- Chip and pin cards are widely used in the US
- Wearables, such as the Apple watch, continue to flood the mainstream
- Contactless mobile payments, such as PayPal, Apple Pay, and others, have hit an inflection point
- An intense interest by online retailers to explore cryptocurrency and blockchain trends to diversify payment options
Think about all that for a few minutes. With all this change happening online and at the store counter, online retailers need to prepare for a multitude of customer scenarios.
Surges in Mobile Traffic Can No Longer be Categorized as “Unexpected”
For those who don’t remember what happened on Black Friday in 2014, Best Buy’s online store went down for 90 minutes. The reported cause was a “surge in traffic from mobile devices.” Today, the notion that a surge of mobile users can bring down an entire site is an almost antiquated idea. Or is it? It’s instructive to revisit the underlying causes of this event and apply them to today’s technology quagmire.
First, surges – no matter where they come from – are what Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holiday season, in general, are all about. The job of a performance engineer in the weeks and months leading up to shopping days like Black Friday is to ensure that the application, the infrastructure, and the organization supporting it are capable of handling the surge.
Second, the recognition that the problem was caused by a surge in mobile traffic reveals that Best Buy had not been thinking about all the ways that modern shoppers would interact with their brand. Anticipating how customers will interact with a brand is a critical element of any online retail vendor’s test coverage and disaster recovery scenarios.
When looking at the performance of an integrated system – a single back-end that serves both mobile and non-mobile users – QA teams must develop a set of test scenarios that mimic users’ behaviors as accurately as possible. Best Buy dropped the ball on that front.
To prevent other QA and performance teams from repeating their mistake, we’ve listed many factors in the modern shopping experience. We recommend that testers be prepared so they can write realistic test cases and protect both their website and their brand during the holiday shopping season and beyond.
The Modern Shopping Experience
User delight and excellent user experiences are a must. To drive brand and revenue, online retailers must respect the consumer’s time as they cater to online browsing, purchase preferences, and order placement. The availability of features that automate quick reordering and enable easy order modifications will be essential to giving customers more control over their interactions.
As vendors work to provide seamless customer experiences across all channels and touchpoints, in both brick-and-mortar and online, they will need to imbue each stage of the customer journey with creative and innovative experiential marketing. Providing a more in-depth and more differentiated brand experience will reshape the shopping experience and win repeat customers. For example, Restoration Hardware includes bistros and wine bars in their new flagship stores.
Last, social media outreach will spur not only engagement but also set baseline expectations regarding overall user experience. If social indicates free delivery by a specific date, the website should support it, and the vendor should strive to achieve it. So communication strategies will need to be aligned with website capabilities and readiness to support marketing programs.
If all these factors work together harmoniously, then rich and satisfying digital experiences will remain at the forefront of a customer’s worldview when they next need to purchase something.
- Mobile shopping continues to soar. Fewer and fewer consumers use laptop and desktop computers to purchase products online. This trend combined with myriad mobile devices on the market equates to more complex testing ecosystems.
- Consumers shop on their phones as they browse through a store. Consumers will browse vendor websites, compare product prices across vendors, and place online orders while in the very stores they are patronizing. Retailers should confirm this behavior using both website and data analytics, and then build strong mobile test cases to support and respond to consumer event triggers.
- More people price-compare products before purchase. Design user experiences that discourage consumers from purchasing competitors’ products by offering steeper discounts, bundling, free or faster shipping, or loyalty rewards.
- Burst-purchase behavior is more prevalent than ever. To lock-in sale prices, consumers make wishlists and then purchase everything at once. Thanks to dedicated apps like Wunderlist and ordering features similar to Amazon’s, buyers can invoke their wishlists and buy everything from that vendor in one transaction. Test cases should mimic this type of burst-purchase behavior – particularly in the final few days of the shopping season!
- Coupons mean never having to pay full price! These days many people use promo codes, coupon apps, RetailMeNot, Ebates, and other mobile-enabled systems to secure the best prices and to earn rewards. When offering coupons, retail vendors need to test all scenarios thoroughly; user paths are many and include the redemption of coupons in person, online, sent by email, delivered via snail mail, cashed in using mobile apps, etc. These are all legitimate couponing strategies.
- Online shopping and online delivery don’t always go together. The idea that you can shop online and pick up items at the store is more popular than ever. So is ordering something in the store and shipping it worldwide, with a receipt sent via email. There are all sorts of ways to mix and match online and offline experiences. Make sure that test cases cover all the bases.
- Returns, returns, returns. Maybe consumers didn’t get the item they expected, or perhaps they intentionally bought shoes in three sizes hoping to return the two that didn’t fit. The return process can be initiated online and completed at the store or return shipped. As with the purchase experience itself, consumers will find the most convenient way for them to return that unwanted item, regardless if it’s online or offline.
- Consumers leave reviews. For the retailer, it’s all about customer lifetime value. The shopping experience does not end with a purchase or even a return. Happy and unhappy customers will share their impressions about their user experience on social media and dedicated review sites. For this reason, striving for excellence is paramount in minimizing negative reviews. Make customers happy, and they will rave about their experience.
The more testers understand consumer buying behavior, the better they can prepare their websites to handle impending holiday traffic and the various user pathways consumers will follow to make a purchase. QA teams and performance engineers need to build test scripts and scenarios that mimic actual user journeys and puzzle through the ways that in-store, online, and mobile technologies are converging to create memorable digital experiences. Be as realistic as possible, and you’ll have no problem getting through the crazy shopping season.
For more about holiday planning, the following may be of interest to you:
- How to Ensure Performance During the Holiday Season
- Holiday Peak Load Testing thru the Lens of the Performance Tester