Testing if your shopping site is ready for the Christmas onslaught

* Outsource load testing

While many of us are enjoying the dog days of summer, the last thing on most minds is Christmas. But anyone responsible for an online shopping Web site should be planning now for the 2006 Christmas shopping season.

The 2005 Christmas shopping season saw significant growth over 2004, and in the United Kingdom for example, online shopping has been growing six times faster than brick and mortar retail sales. With record gas prices and the continued growth of broadband connectivity, consumers have both more incentive and faster access to do their shopping online. Is your Web site ready for the onslaught?

Nothing is more frustrating to consumers than poor service. And this is even more frustrating when you respond to a marketing message only to find that the retailer was not prepared to handle the volume they worked so hard to create. This is true for both in person and online retail experiences. The difference is that it is much easier for an online consumer to choose a competitor when they are unhappy with the experience. Abandonment of online shopping in progress can have many causes, but dissatisfaction with the experience is a major cause, and one that can drive customers to competitor sites that are only a few clicks away. Why use your marketing dollars to ultimately drive customers to your competitor's site?

Don't be lulled into thinking that your site handled the volume last year so it will handle it this year. We often see the phrase "Past performance is no indication of future returns" in financial settings and it applies to your Web site as well. Your application and environment may have been just shy of volume related problems that did not reveal themselves last year. Predictions for volume growth for the 2006 shopping season range from 30% to 100% or more. Unexpected problems may lie just under the surface. Is your application and environment really the same as last year or have there been software or hardware changes? I have seen too many "minor changes" to software, systems or network that passed regression testing from a feature/function perspective only to reveal significant unexpected performance problems later. Better to test well past expected volume levels and test the current software and configuration. Load testing can let you:

* Know how your site will perform at peak traffic.

* Fine-tune your platform for peak performance.

* Maximize return on your marketing dollars.

Whether you operate your own retail Web site or use an outsourcer, you can outsource load testing. There are many options for outside help with load testing. One of the largest is Keynote Systems, which is currently offering a free trial of its LoadPro service. This free trial includes a Random Walk test of your Web site with up to 10,000 sessions/hour or 1,000 virtual users. Keynote's LoadPro service is a fully outsourced service that includes:

* Real world arrival and abandonment models.

* User behavior profiling.

* Load delivered from nine U.S. and one European location.

* Load generated across seven Tier-1 backbones.

* Analysis of user abandonment and lost revenue.

Keynote also has a self-service hosted model called Test Perspective for those who want to leverage the software and infrastructure but wish to have more hands-on testing.

Regardless of how you choose to test your site, now is the time to get ready. Online shopping volume starts up earlier than brick and mortar retail, with both experiencing their largest day on the Friday following Thanksgiving. That is only a short 16 weeks away. Test now while you have time to address any issues and you can enter the high volume season with confidence ... and have time for your own shopping.


Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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