As your busy season looms, you can improve retail readiness in your website with load testing. As we move towards the autumn months and into the holidays, it’s time to gear up for some of the busiest shopping months of the year. For most businesses, the second half and fourth quarter of the calendar year represent a huge portion of their business, whether online only, “brick-and-mortar,” or a hybrid of both online and offline.
We recommend that you continually load test as you develop. (See why here.) But that ideal isn’t always realistic, especially when you personally aren’t in control of your whole development process. To make sure your website is up to the task, here are a few tips to increase your retail readiness.
First: At minimum, baseline test your whole site. A baseline test does what it sounds like it does: it sets a performance baseline. You can’t measure performance improvement (or slowdowns) if you don’t know what you’re measuring against. Run your baseline test using a simple test with a low number of users to start.
Then as you make code changes, re-run the tests with the same parameters as your baseline tests. It’s then easy to see if any major performance issues have cropped up with new code changes. Of course, as you continue to regularly run these tests, you’ll also be able to track overall performance trends.
We recommend you test early and often, and as part of the ongoing development process. (See why we think that way and how we recommend you approach it here. )
Second: If you’re like most people, you’re under a deadline. Since you’re short on time, focus on the most critical activities your visitors do. You might pay special attention to the pages on your site where you see the most traffic according to your site analytics. Those are likely the home page, the search function and pages, the shopping cart and the checkout system. (Check out our shopping cart testing tips here.
If you have a very clear idea of what path most of your customers take, test that path the most - and under the heaviest load. If you, for example, know that most customers come in to a particular product page or category page after being directed there from online advertising, be sure to hammer that page and any links therein the hardest.
Similarly, consider how your company is planning to drive traffic through the busiest season. If you’re anticipating a promotion around a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale, test those pages - or placeholders for them - under a particularly huge load so you can feel more confident that your site can handle the load. Be sure to test those pages through the whole buying process so you can identify bottlenecks that could cost sales.
Third: Check integration points. It has been our sad experience that in today’s interconnected world of sites and apps, performance bottlenecks can creep in through your calls to third-party sites and services. For example you might be calling a third-party product rating API to show customer reviews on your listings. Or you might be calling a third-party API to offer purchase warranties. And you’re likely using a payment gateway API at checkout.
All of these represent significant points of failure. What will your site do if one of these is very slow or possibly completely non-responsive? Most of these services will allow testing - and particularly so if you give them some warning as to what you’re planning to test.
We strongly recommend testing each point of integration under the same load you test your own site: only then can you feel more confident that your customers’ entire buying process can handle the increased load of the busy season. In some cases, if an API’s response is slow or nonexistent, you can find ways to gracefully degrade the user experience rather than lock up the entire application. In other cases, you may need to have an alternative provider ready in case your primary service provider can’t deliver. And, in still other cases, you may want to balance your site load among multiple providers.
These tips should get you started building a good strategy for your own retail readiness. Good luck and happy testing!