What can retailers learn from the tech disasters that plagued Black Friday ahead of the January sales surge? 

David Moore
22 January, 24

The excitement of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has become synonymous with the Christmas shopping season, a time when retailers eagerly anticipate a surge in online and in-store sales. However, as Roq predicted, there were some notable technology disasters during this period. Angry customers of one online retailer took to social media to vent after receiving a 503 error (the HTTP status code for ‘Service Unavailable’), while a high street bank suffered an outage which left customers unable to send and receive payments.  

Nowadays, more people than ever are choosing to do their shopping online which has meant technical glitches, crashes, and website meltdowns have become more common. And, as we saw during the most recent Black Friday sales, these tribulations made headlines and left retailers scrambling to salvage their reputations.  

As the January sales surge looms, merchants must heed the hard-learned lessons from past technology disasters and take steps to avoid similar issues during the upcoming January sales.  

Building in quality from the start: involve your test teams 

One of the primary takeaways from past mistakes is the importance of building quality into systems from the very beginning of the development process. Often, the rush to meet tight deadlines and launch promotions results in insufficient testing, leaving critical issues undiscovered until they wreak havoc during key sales periods. 

Retailers should involve their test teams from the project’s inception and test throughout the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC). Early collaboration ensures that testing strategies are aligned with development goals, allowing for comprehensive test coverage. By embedding Quality Engineering throughout the SDLC, retailers can identify and address potential issues before they escalate into lost revenue, tarnished reputation, and lost market share. 

The importance of load testing 

Load testing is a critical component of preparing for high-traffic events in the retail landscape. The failures witnessed in recent years highlight the importance of simulating different levels of load on systems to identify bottlenecks, weaknesses, and points of failure. 

Retailers should invest in robust load testing strategies to evaluate how their systems perform under various levels of stress. By understanding the breaking points of their infrastructure, sellers can proactively address issues, ensuring that the platform can handle a high influx of users during these peak times. 

The role of scalable infrastructure 

Scalability is key to handling sudden surges in user activity. The failure to scale infrastructure in response to increased demand can result in slow response times, website outages, and a frustrating shopping experience for customers. 

Retailers should implement scalable infrastructure that can dynamically adjust to varying workloads. Cloud services and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are effective tools that allow retailers to scale resources up or down based on demand, ensuring a smooth shopping experience even during peak periods. 

Implementing test automation 

For retailers gearing up for January sales, implementing automation can significantly enhance efficiency and accuracy. Tests can be run frequently and consistently, catching regressions early and freeing up valuable time for testers to perform exploratory testing across key customer journeys. Retailers should focus on automating regression tests, performance tests, and other repetitive scenarios to ensure a robust and reliable system. Automated testing not only accelerates the testing process but also enhances test coverage, helping identify issues across different devices, browsers, and scenarios. 

Automation is especially important from a cost perspective, both for the retailer and the consumer. For the retailer it enables them to do more with less and should ensure defects are caught earlier, when they are cheaper and faster to fix. And for the consumer, it ensures a seamless shopping experience, enabling them to quickly and easily purchase the products they require which fosters high levels of customer satisfaction.  

Being mobile ready 

With ever-growing numbers of people opting for the convenience of shopping on their mobile devices, sellers must ensure that their platforms are not only responsive but also optimised for mobile users. 

Testing on multiple mobile devices and operating systems is crucial to identify and address potential issues specific to mobile users. Emphasis should be placed on responsive design, speed, intuitive navigation, and efficient mobile payment processes to cater to the increasing number of users accessing retail platforms via smartphones and tablets. 

To sum up: 

As sellers gear up for the January sales period, the lessons learned from past technology disasters should serve as a wake-up call. Embedding quality from the start, embracing load testing, leveraging test automation, and mobile responsiveness should be front of mind for retailers. 

By upholding the importance of quality and investing in a robust testing strategy, retailers can provide a seamless and enjoyable shopping experience for buyers who will ultimately become repeat customers long after the sales season ends. 

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