The Challenges of Test Automation in E-Commerce Websites

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Test automation is important for virtually any kind of software, but e-commerce applications, in particular, must meet high-quality demands if it is to be successful. E-commerce software must be seamless and robust; it’s a field of software where small changes can have huge impacts.

On large enough websites, something as simple as requiring customers to login when checking out can cost retailers hundreds of millions in potential revenue. A/B testing and experimentation are crucial in e-commerce, but experimental changes increase the risk of bugs, and that rapid pace of constant evolution must not come at the cost of functionality or usability.

Why Test Automation is Perfect for e-Commerce Websites

The pace of change, technological complexity and the monetary stakes of bugs in production mean rigorous testing is absolutely essential in e-commerce. A typical e-commerce website may integrate with any number of third-party platforms, from email marketing to customer analytics, payment gateways, and plenty more. Developing and maintaining tests for all these integrations on top of the e-commerce platform itself is a huge task.

E-commerce is a crowded marketplace with fierce competition. Rapid evolution is necessary to keep up with contemporary consumer demand and to get ahead of the competition. Consumers have a lot of choices, and a low barrier to exit, so small problems in their experience can lead to lots of lost revenue. User experience is at the forefront of e-commerce development, which means there is a high demand for plenty of end-to-end (E2E) testing.

For these reasons, test automation is perfect for e-commerce websites. While regularly testing every third-party integration and promo code is vital to make sure they work for end-users, it’s time-consuming, tedious, and over time can lead to QA testing burnout. QA engineers are valuable, and rather than test each build themselves, they should better focus on more creative problem-solving.

Crucial Types of Testing for E-Commerce Systems

E-commerce systems continuously conduct small optimizations through A/B testing, also called split testing. These tests help marketers fine-tune their approach to the end-user experience. A data-driven approach to A/B testing helps marketing and product teams optimize conversions driven by actual user behavior in an industry where small differences can significantly impact revenue.

Another type of testing that is essential for e-commerce websites is performance and load testing. Certain holiday events, such as Black Friday, can lead to massive spikes in traffic that far exceed average traffic levels. Proper performance optimization can also save costs by reducing the amount of cloud resources software consumes, therefore lowering overhead.

Top Challenges of Test Automation in E-Commerce Websites

It’s very difficult to simulate realistic customer behavior and traffic loads with traditional testing approaches. Development and staging environments rarely have the same level of resources as production, so making sure your systems can handle big events like Black Friday can be a challenge.

The quantity and variety of third-party integrations that are constantly changing can also be a source of testing frustration. These systems are often at least partially out of your control, so not only do you need to test for correctness, but you also need to test for graceful error handling.

If something does go wrong, customers must not be exposed to the gritty details. Ideally, these problems and workarounds should be handled automatically, but at the very least, these errors should be handled in a customer-friendly way.

Why E-Commerce Testing Must Be Done Differently

E-commerce testing needs to be proactive, not reactive. Problems at checkout are rarely recoverable — consumers are more likely to lose interest and go elsewhere than wait for you to fix something. That’s why test automation is so crucial for e-commerce systems, as you need to find the bugs before your customers do.

With plenty of moving parts and constant change, it’s very easy to overwhelm QA teams that still rely on manual testing. Knowing where and what to prioritize is very valuable for QA teams working to tight deadlines.

For instance, where are your performance optimization priorities? Do you only optimize the homepage for performance? Do you also include the checkout page? Is one payment gateway particularly slow and resulting in lost revenue? E-commerce testing must be led by a data-driven approach based on real user behavior and experiences in order to make the most impact given the resources available, and the more mundane-but-necessary tests that are automated, the more time your QA engineers have to dedicate to these issues.

Erik Fogg is a co-founder and chief operating officer at ProdPerfect, an autonomous E2E regression testing solution that leverages data from live user behavior.

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