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September 28, 2016

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful. – Jeff Bezos

This quote is more relevant now than ever before. In fact, with social media gaining prominence, word of mouth is actually becoming world of mouth. A happy customer will tell ten others on social media. A dissatisfied one will tell a hundred. Consumer behavior is changing. And so is the retail market. From coupons and daily deals, to retail shopping clubs and loyalty schemes, new marketing methods are gaining more prominence. With embedded wallets, smart phones have become powerful purchase tools. Brands are now competing not just for in-store premium shelves, but also app space on user mobile devices. In these times of social shopping disruption, assurance too must evolve to stay relevant. How do we ensure adequate testing for different product and pricing combinations? Given the budgetary constraints, stringent timelines, and the need to continuously address evolving consumer and market expectations, is it possible (or even feasible) to ensure test coverage across devices? Lets take a look at how.

In a price sensitive domain such as retail, affordability is as important as product value. While consumers are attracted to discount coupons and deals, they also expect transparency in transactions. This retail reality calls for prioritized testing of the product catalogue, offers, and bundle prices.

Assurance teams must focus on customer experience right from the outset, and not just towards the end of the release cycle. This early start to customer experience testing, during design, and before development, can pre-empt customer usability issues before they become major bottlenecks in production. For instance, accessibility testing for differently abled users is mandated in some countries and regions. And retailers must include this testing before going live with an ecommerce site that targets audiences across multiple geographies. Content management testing an emerging applied area of testing is now a necessity in retail. Online stores that do not have content management testing as part of their deployment strategy, often end up with front-end chaos product content gone haywire. Its important to tame the content monster with the right set of content controls.

When considering usability and customer experience, many assurance teams tend to focus on online interactions, forgetting that digital is just one channel just like brick-and-mortar. No matter what channel the sale is closed on, they all contribute to customer experience, and make up the overall brand experience.

Consumers shop differently for different products. Its therefore important to localize and customize the online shopping experience, in line with consumer buying patterns and habits. Even a minor usability or customer experience flaw can mean losing the customer. With mobile becoming the preferred device for shopping, it is important to ensure site and app compatibility across devices, platforms and operating systems. To ensure wide coverage, assurance teams must prioritize device fragmentation. External cloud-based mobility testing tools and labs are now a viable option to achieve this.

With payment gateways and mobile wallets becoming popular, security testing is another important, not-to-be-ignored aspect. In addition to credit card information, users confidential data and privacy must also be protected. Online fraud and misuse of financial information must be pre-empted with firewalls, smart controls, access logs and continuous monitoring. With mobile emerging as the preferred device for transactions, mobile platforms cannot be ignored. From my past experience, I have learnt that that the mobility challenge is best addressed by building good working models based on continuous study of customer and end user pain areas.

Automation has a special role to play not just during test execution, but right from the outset from test requirements planning to test data preparation and environment provisioning with scripts and tools. Talking of automated solutions, DevOps is the key to accelerating solution delivery. Cross-browser, and asynchronous testing, combined with tools-driven sprint testing, help reduce cycle time, create value, and improve overall customer experience.

Finally, with social media influencing purchase decisions, and social sentiment becoming the basis for product launch and market decisions, its time for brands to think beyond discount and loyalty programs. New approaches such as social communities must be deployed to drive engagements that ensure deeper customer connect, repeat business and brand loyalty. With the right conversations, social media has the power to energize users, and turn them into an army of brand ambassadors. Assurance clearly, has a task cut out beyond testing spanning development, infrastructure, experience, and even content and communication. We need to be the change, to bring the change. The testing cart, clearly, must be re-configured to assure the shopping mart.

Sheela has 7 + years of experience in Quality Assurance & Testing at TCS Assurance Services Unit. She has worked primarily in the Telecom domain, where she has played a variety of roles in the testing space. She currently manages the eBusiness and mobility projects. She has a B.Tech. degree from Sastra University. Her interests include working with digital technologies, Internet of Things (IoT), digital consulting and keeping pace with fast evolving technology.


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