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When it comes to website testing and optimisation, ‘marking your own homework’ can be a rookie error

26th January 2020

Gone are the days when website testing meant a four-week code lockdown before peak trading. The ecommerce sector is so dynamic now that retailers need the flexibility to continually adjust and improve their offering right up to the very last minute to remain competitive.

The very nature of peak trading has also changed almost beyond recognition. The big seasonal set pieces, such as Christmas still dominate the retail calendar, but throughout the year new peaks are taking on greater importance as markets mature and retailers fight for greater share.

This means that successful ecommerce platforms now need to adopt a holistic and 24/7 approach to website testing if they are to remain truly optimised and capable of converting the maximum number of customers.

Website complexity

So, what are ecommerce firms up against? We are not just talking about crashing websites, in fact this is becoming less common. Problems can include slow load times, poor user journey, bad UI which alienates a proportion of users with unbuyable product (this is caused for example, due to code errors which mean the buy button does not respond when you click it). All of these issues can combine to erode profits and the root cause is the complexity of software and people’s logic on the website.

Add to this the dynamism of modern ecommerce, which means that retailers are increasingly adopting ‘shift left’ technology to remain agile. They test on non-live sites and depend on third-party widgets which are linked to, rather than integrated.

Testing third-party widgets, can never be a case of ‘one and done’. These are constantly being updated and changed beyond the control or knowledge of the website owner and at any point an issue may arise, so they need to be tested on an ongoing basis.

Continuous 24/7 testing regime

Put simply, continuous website development calls for a continuous 24/7 testing regime, because at any point a seemingly small website change may trigger an unforeseen issue that can threaten performance.

A holistic 24/7 testing regime means testing and optimising a platform across all channels, not just desktop or mobile. Customers need an online experience that’s uniformly high quality, right across their increasingly multi-channel journey to purchase, otherwise one issue may cause a customer to leave the sales funnel and erode any brand equity a retailer has worked hard to earn.

A comprehensive approach also means testing websites by imitating real-life customer behaviour on a live site. Testers cannot really understand how a website performs until they use real user journeys and walk in your customers’ shoes.

Mystery shopper on steroids

One effective way of achieving this is to adopt a ‘mystery shopper on steroids’ approach, where testers actively try to find site weaknesses. The rigorous, ongoing nature of this approach means that organisations have the confidence to grow and transform at a high speed; incorporating new digital transformation, breaking new markets, changing suppliers and re-platforming – safe in the knowledge that their websites are fully tested and error free.

When all of these factors are considered, it becomes clear that adopting an effective 24/7 testing regime is a huge job for any organisation and it’s made even more challenging by the ever-increasing pressure on budgets and a shortage of skilled personnel across the industry. That’s why more and more ecommerce businesses are outsourcing testing and optimisation to third-party organisations who can offer a ‘fully managed’ service complete with specialised tools and knowledge.

Market-leading testing firms, for example, can even offer a video replay of a website error to show exactly how a fault occurred. There are also the practicalities of whether testing can be effectively carried out in-house – is it really a good move to attempt to ‘mark your own homework’ when your team has been so close to the platform in question?

Ultimately a, fully managed website performance testing service based on a realistic mix of end-to-end customer journeys, including drop-off ratios, means that web teams can finally be freed-up to concentrate on what they do best – transforming their web offering at a high tempo confident that problems will be quickly identified.