5 steps to building a digital contingency plan

Antony Edwards, COO of Eggplant, outlines what procedures retailers should put in place before they launch a website.

When a new store is set to open on the high street there are a number of procedures in place to ensure that it can provide the ultimate customer experience. For high-end retailers in particular, an inspector often visits to check that the store is ready to begin trading. Staff are trained and processes and rules are enforced before trading begins. So, if this is the case for physical stores, why isn’t the same applied to online retail?

If your shop couldn’t trade because of flooding or a staff shortage, it wouldn’t be able to open. However, it is often the case that websites are rushed to completion and launch when they aren’t ready. This not only creates a poor customer experience, but it also impacts sales.

Although some online retailers implement user acceptance tests for their online platforms, many still don’t ensure that their digital experiences are up to scratch before the website goes live. This leaves those websites at risk of performance issues and outages.

Take IKEA for example. Over the May bank holiday its website suffered a three-day outage that left many customers turning to social media to vent their frustration. Those customers expected a great digital experience, and instead were left with a website that was suffering from technical difficulties for a number of days.

If retail giants like IKEA can suffer from website issues, many others are at risk. What IKEA seemed to lack was a digital contingency plan to limit the damage it suffered. So, what procedures should be in place to mitigate the risks?

Don’t focus on face value

When it comes to getting a website ready, organisations need to test multiple user journeys, not just a few key pages. If the team only tests a few customer journeys, it will undoubtedly miss issues that real customers will find. Rather than manual testing, automated AI-driven testing can be used to track down hidden bugs, which developers can then fix.

Be prepared

Although having your website up and running is important all year round, there are specific periods that need extra attention. From Black Friday to Christmas to bank holidays, web teams need to prioritise mission-critical days, and ensure that the site can handle the increased number of users and purchases. That means load testing in order to understand how the website will perform as traffic increases. At what point does it become unusable? When does it break? It’s also crucial to understand the relationship between website load times and commercial KPIs – even a small slowdown can have a big impact on conversions, and optimising performance at key times can help to ensure that revenue is maximised.

Don’t expect everyone to be as prepared as you

Websites are often made up of a complex ecosystem, and if one of your third-party providers goes down it becomes your problem very quickly. Website teams need to understand the dependencies and have contingency plans in place should that ecosystem fall over.

Have a backup

If all else fails and you do indeed see more traffic than your website can handle, you need something you can fall back on. Some organisations choose to add capacity by scaling up into the cloud. Others may choose to implement a queuing solution. At the same time, it’s important to have a crisis team on standby if all else fails. They will need to address not just the technical issues, but the PR fallout and the knock-on effect on logistics, such as increased demand on call centres.

Never skip testing

Both in the run-up to and during peak trading periods, the pressure is invariably on to get releases and updates out fast. That can lead to the temptation to cut corners and skipping testing and QA. But even a small update can have unintended consequences, and it’s critical to test releases before they go live. When time is of the essence, test automation can be invaluable in ensuring new releases are error free.

Although no organisation plans for their website to suffer from an outage, damage limitation is an important part of a digital contingency plan.

By limiting the impact, and having a specific plan in place, organisations will ensure that any problems that occur are minimised, and the website customer experience is consistently optimised.

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