It just takes one glitch.

One little glitch can result in lost customers, missed-out sales and annoyed visitors that leave damning reviews across the web.
Every year, companies waste millions of dollars on software problems. Even the big players aren’t immune. For example, Amazon on Prime Day, one of their biggest shopping day. During an hour, there was a slowdown in the website’s performance, which also resulted in customers’ inability to add products to the cart.

Earlier, the company calculated that every 100 ms of latency cost them 1% in sales. So how can you avoid revenue-sapping problems with your software?

The answer is quality assurance (QA). In this article, we’ll explain why it’s so important to e-commerce retailers and how you can implement your own QA strategy with or without the help of quality assurance consultants.

Software quality assurance

Quality assurance is a process designed to ensure a high degree of functionality, usability and performance of a system. In an e-commerce setting, software QA is most commonly undertaken prior to updates, product launches, new features and patch releases.

A lengthier period of QA will apply to the rollout of new software applications.

Note: In this article, we will treat the terms QA and software testing as synonyms, although the latter is only part of the former.

Because everything is handled in-house, SaaS solutions like Shopify eliminate the need for QA to a certain degree. But they don’t remove it entirely, especially if third-party software is being integrated with separate platforms like a WordPress site.
For bigger e-commerce players who design and run their own software, it is vitally important that a well-designed software QA process is implemented.

Why QA is crucial for e-commerce

As buyers turn to the web for everything from clothes to groceries, they’re also becoming more impatient. If within minutes of arriving at your store a new visitor is bogged down by a problem with the shopping cart or has to wait for slow pages to load, you might wave them goodbye.

At the same time, e-commerce software is uniquely prone to problems. Platforms are often complex and are expected to fulfill a range of functions at volume. So it’s vital to check that your online store performs smoothly under various conditions and doesn’t have major defects that can harm your business.

There are some common examples of defects that can be particularly devastating, both to immediate sales and long-term brand authority.

Common defect #1: Security breaches

Security breaches are perhaps the most damaging of all software issues. Acer recently publicly acknowledged a breach that involved 34,500 shoppers. Hackers have accessed the store’s customer base and stolen sensitive information, including credit card numbers with their expiry dates and CVC security codes. No doubt, now shoppers will think twice before entrusting their data to the company.

The long-term effect of a security breach can be devastating, which is why companies are often so unwilling to come forward.
Software QA has a range of techniques to pinpoint and close any holes in the website’s defense, such as penetration testing, vulnerability scanning and other types of security testing.

Common defect #2: Faulty purchase processes

Order processing often requires a number of integrations and demands customers to take several steps to make a purchase. Remember that glitch on Amazon’s Prime Day? Having a cart that doesn’t work can quickly send customers looking elsewhere.
Software testing engineers pay particular attention to order processing. Thorough functional, integration and performance testing will ensure that the orders are processed quickly and faultlessly.

Common defect #3: Ineffective search engines (product filtering)

Findability is the extent to which a search function can provide exactly what a customer is looking for, based on as little information as possible. Visitors should be able to find products they want to buy easily. Bugs in product filtering disappoint customers and often make them leave.

Finding glitches in product search and filtering is a routine task for functional testing engineers. So, that’s one more point where software quality assurance will make a difference for an e-commerce website.

Common defect #4: Poor compatibility

E-commerce solutions need to be compatible across a range of browsers and devices. Customers are shopping in different countries, in numerous languages and using a variety of interfaces (everything from apps to browsers and smart watches). Websites may render differently in different browser versions, which often leads to unexpected functional defects.
Today, there are five commonly used browsers: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Edge, and Internet Explorer, not to mention various versions of mobile browsers for Android and iOS. QA ensures that your web app runs smoothly in all browser versions that are popular among your target audience.

How do you devise an optimal strategy?

QA requires a meticulous framework that can pinpoint numerous small issues within a piece of software. Often it is necessary to draw upon the experience of qualified experts. Quality assurance consultants are also able to ensure that software meets standardized industry quality levels.

Generally speaking, a structured approach to quality assurance will include the following basic elements, encompassing a mix of manual and automated testing scenarios:

Functionality – This type of testing is concerned with the inputs and outputs of the system. It is essential for gauging whether or not the system’s functions are delivering the required results, both individually and in concert with other modules.

Regression testing – which ensures that new code works with previously developed elements of a piece of software, is a part of functionality testing.

Usability Testing – This aspect of the QA process is involved with streamlining the interaction of users and the e-commerce interface. It asks, “Is it possible for users to achieve an outcome in the quickest, most efficient way possible?”

Security Testing – The devastating effect of security breaches means that software must be tested for vulnerabilities and enhanced where possible. It is important to remember that security violations can come from people both outside and inside an organization.

Performance Testing – Performance testing is primarily concerned with an app’s ability to deliver outcomes under different circumstances. Site speed, load times, performance under increased traffic are the areas that need to be considered.

A/B testing – Quality assurance can also encompass A/B split testing, a well-known way to increase the conversion rate of a website. Thanks to A/B testing, one e-commerce site increased sales by nearly 50% ⎯ all they needed to do was to change their checkout button. It became known as the $300 million button.

E-commerce testing: An example QA checklist

How do all these stages translate into practical testing points?

The checklist below includes examples of some of the most common e-commerce features that would likely be flagged for testing.

Load time – Page load speed and browser compatibility are highly important and should be measured against industry benchmarks.

Product pages – Images, descriptions, prices, and stock levels should all display correctly.

Shopping cart – Products should be added to the shopping cart, price alterations should be automatic and vouchers, deals, discounts, etc. should be accounted for.

Forms and logins – Data should be collected and stored correctly and forms should lead to the appropriate pages (such as those connecting to accounts).

Checkout – The payment process should be checked: there should be no glitches and all costs should be added (VAT, shipping, etc.).

Integrations – All the third-party integrations (like payment processors) should be working properly.

Multi-channel compatibility – As e-commerce becomes increasingly multi-channel, it’s important to make sure sites are working across a number of channels, including desktop, mobile, tablets IoT, TV, and more.

Form security – Contact forms shouldn’t be vulnerable to hacking breaches such as SQL injections.

Data transmission security – Data encryption and secure transmission should work as effectively as possible.

Databases – Databases should store and deliver information correctly.

This list is not comprehensive. But it gives a flavor of the kind of key areas that quality assurance would cover in e-commerce.

On a final note

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of e-commerce quality testing. As retail increasingly turns into an online phenomenon, with more customers favoring the web over high-street stores, online sellers are meeting demand with highly-functional, multifaceted online platforms.

Yet with growth also comes risk. As features are added and software becomes more complex, the potential for problems also increases. But this needn’t the case. A comprehensive, detailed approach to quality assurance can ensure that e-commerce retailers, whether big or small, are able to avoid the potentially devastating effects of bugs and hacks.