Five top tips for excelling e-selling this Noël

By Michael Allen, VP of APM, Compuware.

As consumers continue to move towards clicks rather than bricks to get their Christmas shopping done easily and efficiently, e-commerce is becoming increasingly essential for retailers during the festive trading period. This year, online shopping spend in the UK is set to reach £107bn, with £13bn of that spent during the festive period alone. Bearing this in mind, making sure their site can handle any surge in seasonal demand is crucial for retailers over the next few months. Slow loading times, page timeouts and site outages could make that vital difference between a sale and an abandoned shopping cart.

Yet it is not only e-commerce sites that need to be resilient. Our research has found that 49% of mobile device users planned to search and shop for gifts online using their smartphones and tablets last year; but over a third (37%) of them would abandon their search and shop elsewhere if the site failed to load within three seconds. As a result, retailers not only need to make sure that their e-commerce site is up to scratch, but that their mobile apps and m-commerce sites are able to cope with the increased strain on them. Those who offer the most usable features, along with the fastest, most consistent performance across e-commerce and m-commerce platforms, will emerge as the clear winners this Christmas.

So what basic measures can retailers take to optimise the performance of their online shopping platforms and reduce the risks of losing out to the competition? Here are some suggestions:

  • Understand your key new features: New website features are prone to bugs and can introduce performance problems. As a result, any such new features should be a key focus for performance testing, automated tests and coverage tests to catch these problems early on.
  • Prioritise key application transactions: Functionality, such as adding items to the shopping cart and checking delivery costs, are fundamental to an ecommerce store; so it is in these areas that performance matters the most. Businesses should keep close watch on the impact that site performance has on conversion and shopping cart abandonment rates to gain a real understanding of the business impact.
  • Know your key customers: Online retailers need to treat key customers as VIPs. They need to know where they are and which networks they are on; which web browsers and devices they access the site from; and whether they're using the website, mobile site or mobile app. This knowledge will enable them to ensure tests around critical users and platforms are ramped up during peaks in seasonal demand.
  • Identify third-party functionality: Problems with third-party services that are supported on an e-commerce website, such as social media links and ad-servers, could cause slowdowns or even a total site failure. As such, retailers need to have a clear picture of which services are supporting their site and how they are impacting performance.
  • Play the long game: Although a site may be able to handle a short peak in demand, withstanding a constant high load over a long period of time is another matter entirely. Resource leaks, misconfigured caches and undersized infrastructure can all lead to regular site crashes, which can have a devastating impact on ecommerce revenues. Concurrency testing is essential in identifying the issues that contribute to these problems.

Of course, retailers don't have unlimited resources with which to optimise performance across every device, every function and for every shopper. As a result, it is crucial to set the bar at where the biggest opportunities for revenue increase and business benefits lie; particularly in preparation for key seasonal trading periods. For example, reducing a five second response time by 30% on an app that is used by half of mobile shoppers will have a fairly dramatic impact on revenues. However, reducing a one second response time by the same measure on a less popular app that is used by just 2% of users is likely to be a less wise investment. As with anything; planning ecommerce site optimisation needs to be a carefully thought through process with a clear business objective in sight.

It seems inevitable that the importance of e-commerce will continue to grow for modern retailers, so learning to handle these seasonal peaks in demand is becoming just as essential as remembering to open the doors on the high street store at the start of the day. A website failure equates to a closure of the business, which can only amount to lost sales opportunities. Keeping this in mind, retailers need to be sure they have taken all the necessary steps to remove the risk of a technology failure leaving a bad taste in their mouth this Christmas; so that they can be sure to wake up with more than a lump of coal in their stocking.

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