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Global ecommerce sales are predicted to reach more than $6.5 trillion by 2023, but how will you claim your share of the prize when you just can’t seem to stabilize and grow your website conversion rate effectively? This blog explores how thorough and ongoing functional testing can help you realise your digital potential with fewer growing pains.
What is functional testing?
Functional testing defines a range of software tests intended to verify that every function of a website or app is operating in the way it should. These tests typically include systematic checks of user interface, accessibility, APIs and other integrations to ensure an application is bug-free and functions in line with business requirements.
Functional tests can and should be carried out in staging prior to major software releases and post-release to ensure changes have not accidentally introduced bugs and issues into the live environment.
Because these moments of risk for brands just keep on coming.
Re-platforming events can turn your world (and conversion rate) upside down
Once in a decade upgrades and re-platforming efforts have traditionally been moments that can wreak havoc on conversion rates. Historically, according to Forrester research, 39% of companies see a drop in conversion rates after these major shifts, while 44% note slower load times once a new platform goes live.
Remember Marks and Spencer switching from the Amazon platform in 2015? The £150 million rebuild, in fact, saw an 8.1% drop in online sales and a 1.5% drop in share price for the retailer, as millions of registered customers were forced to create new accounts, while others reported a complete inability to check out - on what proved to be a buggy site.
Digital teams involved in huge projects like these with many moving parts and integrations, often have no choice but to release partially or inadequately tested sites because they simply don’t have the resource to conduct much more than basic tests before release. And outside of a few hyper-competitors, there’s maybe no in-house team who could possibly cope with the size and scope of the testing challenge that such upheaval usually represents.
But these are exactly the moments when you need the most exhaustive functional testing to ensure everything is working exactly as it should be. These are the make or break moments for revenue and reputation.
Marks and Spencer's experience was 4 years ago and both the competitive and digital landscape have changed dramatically. Since then, the diversity of devices accessing sites and apps has increased, while the pressure for brands to deliver richer digital experiences and more frictionless sales has continued unabated.
As a result, the functional testing challenge has risen further.
The continued fragmentation of customer experience impacts conversion rates
Every year, according to Browserstack, across the world more than 4 billion people access the web through a combination of more than 9000 distinct devices, 21 different operating systems and 8 major engines that power hundreds of different browsers.
That’s an estimated 63,000 possible browser/platform/device combinations that could be accessing your website at any given time.
This state of fragmentation means there are hundreds of possible reasons why a website might see a sudden drop in revenue and a myriad ways a site or an app might be failing to convert visitors to customers.
‘Leaky’ browsers - bugs associated with specific hardware and software combinations are difficult to detect but can suppress conversion rates in dramatic ways. Error messages, forms that can’t be completed, API failure and the rest, can all cause payment journeys to end abruptly - but they can be so specific to certain devices that their impact can be difficult to discern across the ‘noise’ of other analytics.
Functional tests that cover the full gamut of devices and browsers replicating the keystrokes of vital customer journeys, will show up where problems with popular combinations might lie.
Using a professional testing agency, who can mobilise teams and run functional tests at size and scale before and immediately after release is often the best option for an e-commerce brand who may have limited testing resource. They can ensure every testing angle is being covered during moments that are key to commercial and brand credibility.
Functional testing is an ongoing challenge
But increasingly, the Agile environment is changing the whole nature of the testing challenge. Businesses that were once working in ‘waterfall’ cycles of infrequent, but major updates and feature releases are now working in cycles of continuous deployment. This, of course, means constant, incremental releases of new functionality that all need testing in real-time.
As James Whittaker one time head of testing at Google has said:
“there is no arguing that the software development problem has been fundamentally altered by agile development, continuous builds, early user involvement, and crowd-based testing... Sticking to decades-old testing dogma is a recipe for irrelevance.”
The message is that digital teams and internal QA functions who are trying to cope with a new digital landscape using the same structure and approach of 10 years ago will likely fail.
Meeting the challenge of delivering new and more engaging features that can transform more visitors to customers, depends on detecting and understanding when, where and how those efforts are succeeding or failing in real-time.
In this context, too often, it’s impossible for an eCommerce manager, faced with an array of metrics showing sudden dips or peaks in revenue or basket abandons to make sense of it all, and see where a conversion problem may lie.
Where there are so many moving parts responsible for the optimal performance of a website or app you need real-world testing data and teams working 365/24/7 to ensure you are keeping on top of it all.
Because the cost of doing nothing is often calamitous for online business. An undetected bug responsible for a single hour of downtime can cost a typical e-commerce business up to $300,000. Even a single frustrating experience on a website could mean that customers exit a site before completing a purchase never to return.
You need to be sure you have the resource and strategy in place to seek out and eliminate the bugs that will inevitably arise as new layers of functionality are introduced.
The challenge of testing
It’s not just the speed of new releases that is a challenge for traditional QA teams to navigate.
Better and more compelling customer experiences using new techniques, cutting edge configurators, personalisation options and the like are all creating more unique customer journeys that need more intense and bespoke testing sequences to validate them.
It’s becoming more necessary than ever, but increasingly impossible to adequately test everything you are releasing, with the rigour and to the quality standards that your business needs.
In response to this many businesses are finding that having outsourced, professional testers engaged in bespoke, ongoing regression and new functionality testing is the way to make the most out of their stretched resources.
The right external testing solution can provide the insights you need for you, , allowing you to prioritise developer's time on the fixes that will protect conversion rates most effectively.
But it can also transform the way your internal digital and QA teams are able to function. With constant, routine functional testing conducted rapidly and efficiently by trusted partners, your internal teams can be freed to focus on strategic testing priorities.
They will have the time and energy available to define and oversee the kind of non-functional, usability and exploratory testing that will further optimise and grow your conversion rate.