E-Commerce connects buyers and sellers through Internet web sites. As opposed to informational sites, e-commerce systems are designed to directly interact with customers who are looking for quick access to product/service information with equally rapid and accurate purchase options. Notice the emphasis on rapid interaction.
E-Commerce Could be Anything? How do You Define it?
E-Commerce has grown through one primary attribute, convenience. Transactions are proposed, accepted and serviced with no more than minimal data entry to assign payment and mouse clicks to select from an array of offerings. Those offerings are updated through fast response content management systems that allow the managers of the site to quickly update offered products and terms. It is not a stretch to say that, along with mobile apps, e-commerce drove the adoption of the Agile development methodology.
Search for a particular product or service type on Google and you will immediately be offered dozens of sites to choose from. This puts marketing in the driver’s seat for site content. The ease of searching for sites and then scanning them for the desired item at an acceptable price means that the customer’s attention has to be very carefully managed lest they simply move on to the next site. Sales and marketing campaigns are carefully constructed and continuously changed in order to retain that most precious commodity, the customers’ focus.
Testing must verify four basic aspects of the customer experience provided by the site code:
- intuitive controls,
- cosmetic appearance and
All navigation and data entry operations must function accurately and in a way that the appearance of the site controls suggest. As an example, labeling a button that causes the next page to be presented as ‘Go To X’ may leave the user wondering if ‘X’ is the next page or if the site is about to take his experience in an undesired direction.
And it is not enough to simply get an understandable, correct result. If system response is too slow or worse, erratic, the user may abandon their shopping cart and go to another site that gives them what they expect when they expect to see it. Cosmetic issues, while not directly affecting functionality can be so obnoxious as to discourage the potential customer for using the site at all.
Let’s explore some approaches to and insights around the process of testing sites to support the best possible customer experience of an e-commerce site.
Directed Test Approaches
Functional testing to verify control operation is an obvious necessity for e-commerce sites as well as any other software QA effort. But with e-commerce, meaningful error trapping and messaging is crucial. Even the best functional test efforts are still going to suffer defect escapes into the production site. When this happens, it is vital to ensure that the user sees a message that explains what happened in understandable terms. QA needs to verify that error messages are available for all control actuations and that, where possible, they offer the user operational alternatives.
E-Commerce Website Navigation
Controls and data entry points must be carefully and clearly labeled. They must also be arranged on the site pages to follow each other in a logical progression. In the US and Europe, everyone reads from left to right and top to bottom. Control sequences should follow this reading path. Look for such non-intuitive arrangements as ‘Submit’ or ‘Next’ buttons that appear before the data entry point that they control or on some odd corner of their page. Make sure that the labels themselves are as simple as possible while still explaining the control so as to leave no confusion as to its function.
E-Commerce Performance Testing
Performance, while a topic unto itself, has some aspects that are crucial to e-commerce site operation. Any site must be provisioned with both software and hardware sufficient to its projected use levels. E-Commerce sites must deal with third party services as part of their interaction with customer users. Like functional verification, third-party API access must be tested thoroughly for performance and for clear error trapping. A credit card authorization service’s failure to respond under load is not the fault of the site that called up its services but the user won’t make that distinction.
The use of content management facilities must not significantly impair site performance. Marketing must have continuous access to the site content but that access must also be done seamlessly from the user’s perspective. Performance can’t suffer because new products are being loaded.
E-Commerce Usability Testing
Cosmetic issues are the one place where test automation is worthless, and programmers are not much better. Good site functionality will not paper over the fact that a garishly colored banner obscures useful page text when displayed. A trained usability tester or product marketing staffer should be charged with page cosmetic examination as a major part of their job description. They must look at page changes on the staging site just before they go live to make sure that there hasn’t been a last minute code change that works just fine but makes a mess of page esthetics.
E-Commerce Website Testing Insights
For e-commerce installations, it is not enough for the code to work, it must work well. What follows are some insights into possible aspects of that word ‘well.’
Test from a User Mindset
It is imperative to test from a user mindset and use analytics to analyze the frequency of pages recently visited and items bought to give those areas special attention. Whenever possible, solicit user feedback on the ease of site use and on how intuitive its operations are for a novice user. Offering discount code inducements works well for this.
Verify that the checkout process properly applies discount codes, taxes and shipping charges, especially if shipping is ‘free.’ Test the entire transaction flow from beginning to end to make sure that all these parts add up to an arithmetically and functionally correct result.
Test Sign-In and Password Functionality
Test sign in and ‘forgot password’ functionality for returning customers as well as social login options such as PayPal, Google, Facebook, and the like. These are supposed to be convenience features, not irritations. Test for persistent session contents to account for timeouts and operation from tab to tab in the browser.
Load and Performance Testing for High Traffic Dates
Run load/performance tests to reflect specific high traffic times such as Black Friday, Mothers’ Day, Christmas, Valentine’s, Cyber Monday, during marketing promotions and campaigns and for any pertinent one-off events. These dates will be high value sales opportunities only if your site and ancillary resources are ready for them.
Finally, if you will sell to Europe at all, carefully test the requirements relating to the new European “General Data Protection Regulation” (GDPR). This will include:
- Breach Notification – All customers must be advised of any breach that may result in a “risk for the rights and freedoms of individuals” within 72 hours of the company becoming aware of the breach.
- Right to Access – Users must be able to access their information, including whether and where their data is being processed, and for what purpose.
- Right to be Forgotten – Users must have the option of having all personal data erased on demand.
- Data Portability – Users’ personal data must be made available to them in a format usable for moving their data from one organization to another.
E-Commerce Website Testing Conclusions
E-Commerce testing is as important as the products and services you have for sale on your site. Functional, performance, and usability testing must be executed on a regular basis. Not just before the website launch date.
A thorough, experienced e-commerce testing team can help you determine and execute an e-commerce testing plan that can cover all your bases while keeping up with the demands of today’s shoppers. Don’t let sales slip through your hands just because of poor testing. Contact us today to schedule an e-commerce website testing consultation.