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November 2, 2017

Continuously Improving, Consistent Experience for Customer Delight

With nearly 82% of shopping decisions being made on the go, retail’s share of online, mobile purchase is on the rise. As omni-channel takes centre stage and wearable and mobile devices gain popularity, retailers are deploying “click to buy”, click-n-collect and frictionless shopping initiatives across mobile, digital and social media channels – the place where customers are and business is! Then, there’s the new (POS) terminal for retail – paid for by customers – their mobile devices! These are innovative ways to stay connected with customers and keep the cash register ticking. But along with these exciting demand creation opportunities, digital technologies also present risks such as security breaches, payment fraud, and server crashes – especially during peak, festive seasons. Popular instances include Nordstrom in July 2017, and Missguided in March 2016. Such incidents cause damage much beyond missed billing. In this socially connected consumer base, unpleasant customer experience not only impacts brand loyalty but also erodes brand credibility, and can send stock prices crashing. Plus, frequent roll-out of mobile device and operating system upgrades, sometimes every few weeks, presents the risk of these mobile channels inadvertently shutting down – without retailers even knowing why those customers aren’t buying anymore. This happens when the underlying retail system isn’t tested for compatibility with new, upgraded mobile operating systems. That brings me to the central point of this post – the need for continuous verification through quality engineering (QE), performance management, and security.

In the age of digitally connected customers, superior customer experience is critical to the success of ecommerce, particularly customer acquisition and retention. Most retailers turn to accelerated, Agile releases to stay ahead of competition. While this is a good strategy, due importance must also be accorded to cross platform validation, performance and load testing, and product information consistency across e-commerce, order management, and inventory tacking systems and platforms. Superior, personalized, and consistent experience is possible only when these components and systems are in sync. What makes an experience superior? And how can retailers measure it? While there is no single definition, benchmark, or guideline, here are three focus areas that can help retailers offer superior customer experience.

First – enabling seamless touch delight – or seamless and consistent experience across physical, digital, social channels, web browsers and mobile devices. This can be achieved through a combination of cross browser, usability, accessibility, performance and security testing – performed on actual user journeys, enabled with the right toolset for speed and coverage, guided by experts, and supported by a strong analytics program that continuously measures the outcome of the quality engineering process. Measures such as number of broken links, user experience consistency across form factors, channels and operating systems must make up the experience metrics repertoire.

Next, it’s important for retailers to be consistent and reliable. Retail operations teams must adopt predictive analysis, continuously analyze incidents, and update the test automation suite on every change, especially for continuous deployments. A well-defined performance strategy should be established. Besides defining clear SLAs, the strategy must cover all systems and user journeys. Continuous performance testing ensures performance within desired levels, even during festive seasons, when the load on systems is at its seasonal peak. The effectiveness of continuous validation process can be measured through the ‘cart abandonment rate’ metric, which is the percentage of times shopping cart transactions failed during the check-out process. Another important metric is the ‘special events conversion rate’, which measures conversion rates of offers during festive seasons and events.

Finally, in the fiercely competitive retail world, time to market is of prime importance. To excite customers with new features, fixes and offers, and achieve competitive differentiation, retailers must get better every day, and reach market faster than competition. For customers, the ‘core journey time’ – from search to checkout and ‘basket to checkout journey time’ – from time taken from adding the item in the basket to checkout, must be reduced. The accelerated deployments need equally fast, robust and continuous test cycles that are continuously integrated with every change as it is done. In addition to measuring testing velocity and effectiveness, retailers must also map the testing benefit metrics with business objectives. The industry is moving towards quality engineering (QE) and QE teams in retail organizations must continuously retrospect and improve the quality process with pertinent questions such as – Is the test pack continuously updated for new developments, incident/defect trends end-to-end? Is the validation being done on the right set of devices? Is performance engineering being validated against number of users accessing the website? How is the impact for a change analyzed for super fast release cycles? When in place, this culture of continuous improvement will ensure consistent experience and customer delight, which in turn will continuously keep the retail cash register ticking.

Nikhil Ladha is a solutions and business development consultant for the quality engineering practice in TCS' retail unit working with customers in the US, UK and Europe regions. He has 6 years of experience in varied domains such as retail, banking and utilities. Nikhil has also worked in delivery roles prior to this. He holds an MBA in Marketing from SPJIMR, Mumbai and a B. Tech degree in Information Technology from IEM, Kolkata. His interests include leveraging quality to significantly improve a retailer's transformation journey and using quality as a business driver / enabler.


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