Failing digital channels can have a devastating effect on your revenue stream. In this post we’ll look at how to ensure the quality of e-commerce operations with the help of test and process automation.
E-commerce is practically an inevitable part of selling and purchasing products and services today: Digital and mobile storefronts, electronic transfer of funds, web-based inventory systems, and online marketing are just a few of the different aspects of e-commerce.
Automating front- and back-end processes for monitoring and testing purposes can help enhance the robustness and quality of an e-commerce channel. This involves:
- ensuring availability of an online shop from an end-user perspective
- continuous monitoring of the operational status of the entire channel
The example used in this post is based on a traditional e-commerce setup with a web or mobile application serving as the customer-facing front-end (or ‘storefront’) with integrations to back-office operations, i.e. order management, shipping of goods, etc. This is illustrated in figure 1.
FIGURE 1: An example of e-commerce operations.
When an e-commerce pipeline fails
If digital channels and applications are vital parts of your revenue stream, customer service and/or supply chain management, then it is business critical to be able to monitor and test that transaction flows and business processes work as they should.
From a quality assurance perspective, an e-commerce channel can break in several places. For example, there might be a failure in the integration between the customer facing storefront (e-commerce platform) and the back-office functionalities. This would mean that customers are able to place orders, but these are not handled properly. The customer has no insight to what goes on behind the scenes, so, unless notified, he/she assumes that the order is being processed and shipped as promised. In the worst case, the vendor is not made aware of the issue until a customer contacts support about a missing order. This is obviously a bad customer experience and could hurt sales. This scenario is illustrated in figure 2.
FIGURE 2: The e-commerce channel can break at the integration between the storefront and
the back-office functionalities.
A digital channel can also break at the customer-facing touch point, i.e. the e-commerce platform itself. Here are some examples of a broken user experience, ranging from more to less obvious:
- The shop is simply down. The website returns a 404-error message or is otherwise not operational.
- There are bugs somewhere in the purchase process, e.g. the shopping cart does not update properly, or the digital payment form cannot be filled correctly.
- The information structure of the website is confusing and does not invite visitors to convert to customers.
This scenario is illustrated in figure 3.
FIGURE 3: The e-commerce channel can also break at the customer-facing touch-point.
The hidden paths of an e-commerce flow
The transactional flows that make up the e-commerce channel is not necessarily just a linear path as illustrated above. The customer might go back and forth in the checkout process before placing an order, and even after that, the transactional flow might not run smoothly. For example, the chosen payment method might be declined, the purchased good might turn out not to be in stock as indicated, or the customer might contact support after placing the order to make changes.
At each stage of the e-commerce pipeline, there are multiple possible branches for the flow of actions and data. This means that there are potentially hundreds or thousands of combinations of paths from one end of the channel to the other.
Usually, the most obvious and common paths from A to B in an e-commerce channel have been, and are continuously being, tested to make sure they work. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What about the many, less obvious, user journeys? They might not represent how the e-commerce channel was intended to be used, but they exist, and they are just as important to verify and maintain as they pose a risk to the customer experience and the revenue stream.
FIGURE 4: In reality, there are multiple paths through an e-commerce channel,
and each branching at the different steps in the process can potentially fail.
As we’ll see later, the challenge of the hidden paths as well as the other examples of e-commerce issues outlined above can be solved with the help of automated monitoring and testing.
Ensuring an operational e-commerce channel with automation
Apply all good principles from DevOps, including the use of automated testing, to make sure your e-commerce application has the highest possible quality and robustness.
Our first recommendation in relation to testing an e-commerce application relates to how to prioritize test cases. A rule of thumb here is to “follow the money”. This means testing the transactional flows which are most critical to your business’ revenue stream, and further, promoting these test cases for automation.
Our second recommendation is to make sure that your automation solution can handle the following scenarios:
The first scenario is regular automated regression testing of the front-end, i.e. the customer-facing part of the e-commerce channel. This will help answer the question: Does our storefront work? The robots executing the automated test cases interact with the e-commerce platform’s user interface the same way visitors would, performing tasks like adding items to the shopping cart, filling out form fields, etc. With automated regression testing, you can make sure that the store still works when changes are made to the e-commerce application.
FIGURE 5: Front-end testing an e-commerce channel.
End-to-end testing the entire channel across technologies
With automated end-to-end testing, it’s crucial that the solution used can automate flows across applications and technologies. For example, your e-commerce channel might include a web-based shop, a web-based CRM system, and a desktop-based order-handling and -shipping system. Automating the testing of cross-application flows, will help you answer the question: Does our entire channel work?
FIGURE 6: End-to-end testing of an e-commerce channel.
Similar to end-to-end testing, automated monitoring is about verifying that the entire e-commerce channel is operational. While end-to-end testing is concerned with whether your channel works in general, monitoring helps you stay updated about whether the channel works right now. In practice, it is done by having robots continuously perform automated processes that are similar to the tasks your customers and visitors perform.
FIGURE 7: Automated testing and monitoring of an e-commerce channel.
With automated monitoring you’re made aware of any issues with your e-commerce channel before users run into them, which helps protect your brand and credibility, and most importantly, helps prevent any hiccups in the revenue stream. Learn more about web automation.
- Most commerce includes e-commerce aspects. Therefore, it is business critical to be able to monitor and test the operations and transaction flows of digital channels. Process automation for monitoring and testing purposes can help support that objective.
- An e-commerce channel can break in several places, e.g. the customer-facing storefront, the integration between front- and back-office systems, or in unforeseen branches of transactional flows.
- To set up automated testing and monitoring of an e-commerce channel, make sure that the automation solution can handle front-end testing, end-to-end testing across applications and technologies, and continuous verification on both scheduled and ad hoc basis.