Holiday countdown – 5 things to do now to get your ecommerce site ready

Posted by on December 22, 2015 3:32am

bigstock-Christmas-Time-Christmas-candl-107856815_bis.jpgThis Thanksgiving we witnessed yet another round of spectacular crashes among online retailers. Neiman Marcus had a retailer’s worst nightmare: the Neiman Marcus site crashed on Black Friday and did not recover for the whole day. Cyber Monday saw major crashes impact Target, Victoria’s Secret, NewEgg and even PayPal. And these are only the big ones that made the press.

Clearly these performance failures were not what these companies had in mind: either they underestimated the impact large traffic surges would have on overall performance, made some last minute software changes that had unintended consequences, or just experienced a lot more online traffic than anticipated. In any case, it seems that not all retailers have mastered the dynamics of speed, scale and resilience.  But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Such performance blunders can easily be prevented with proper testing.

So, as part of your holiday countdown, here are five scenarios you need to test to make sure your website is ready for prime time:

  1. Order processing, aka Shopping Cart Checkout. It’s important to make sure that all services supporting the order processing system can support a large amount of new orders.
    • How to do it: Run a test with an increasing number of VU (virtual users) checking out their shopping carts and completing the transaction

  2. Path-to-purchase journey. The majority of your users will go to the site, browse a large variety of assets, read reviews, and put an object into the cart. This is what you want to test. We recommend testing 5x your expected peak, in case you have a lot more users than expected or more users decided to shop online vs. going with a brick-and-mortar option.
    • How to do it: Record a number of different scenarios touching different assets, upload them to your testing platform and convert them into tests. Blend those scenarios and split your traffic among them to obtain more realistic view of your performance.

  3. Mobile. Mobile devices are now an incredibly important part of the path-to-purchase journey. Having a mobile website is a must-have requirement today. In some cases, retailers might have also a native mobile app for a better user experience. Whether you have a mobile website, a mobile app, or both, testing the performance of the mobile experience is a must.
    • How to do it: First, make sure your performance testing platform supports mobile application testing. Then, make an assumption of the percentage of users that will access your platform via mobile. Now double that number to provide a buffer. Then, test the high priority scenarios described above, but coming from a mobile device. It’s very easy to do. Record the scenarios on a mobile device and create tests accordingly. Done!

  4. User registration. If your website does not accept anonymous users and requires some level of user registration, this is usually a scenario worth testing as it can have a substantial impact on performance.
    • How to do it: Record the user registration / form completion workflow and convert it into a test. Randomize your payload (i.e. your data set) to achieve more realistic results and avoid triggering caching mechanisms that will result in a best-case scenario.

  5. 3rd party services. Don’t underestimate the impact that 3rd party services (like ads, social widgets, analytics and tracking) can have on your performance. A single line of Java Script can cause spectacular crashes to your website. In addition, a lot of the ecommerce functionality can be obtained via 3rd party services exposed via an API. Fortunately, it’s quite straightforward to test an API endpoint for performance.

    • How to do it: Make sure your testing platform supports API testing. Test your API service endpoint in isolation from the rest of the system — you don’t want to confuse the data, and you want to proceed by exclusion to make sure the endpoint is not a potential cause of slowdown or outage. Identify the API calls you are interested in — the most common use cases. Record the set of API calls and create tests. In this case, each user may generate a large number of API calls, so make sure to ramp up your traffic accordingly. Done!

As you can see, conducting proper performance testing doesn’t have to be a dauntingly complicated process. Good planning, the right tools, and following these five scenarios in your testing process will go a long way toward keeping your site and apps running smoothly through the holiday rush.