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Understanding the Modern Mobile Shopper This Holiday Season | @DevOpsSummit #DevOps

What's expected to be different in the 2015 holiday shopping season, exactly?

While it feels like only yesterday that Best Buy's website crashed during the madness of Black Friday, it's actually been a very busy year. A lot has happened, and though it may not seem so, the worlds of eCommerce, mobile shopping, and omni-channel retail are quite advanced from where they were this time last year. So what's expected to be different in the 2015 holiday shopping season, exactly?

It's hard to believe, but the holidays are here again.

"So soon," you ask?

While it feels like only yesterday that Best Buy's website crashed during the madness of Black Friday, it's actually been a very busy year. A lot has happened, and though it may not seem so, the worlds of eCommerce, mobile shopping, and omni-channel retail are quite advanced from where they were this time last year.

So what's expected to be different in the 2015 holiday shopping season, exactly? Here are some predictions from Vend University:

  • Social networks will serve as shopping platforms
  • Retailers will adopt and experiment with technologies from point-of-sale to beacons and more
  • More eCommerce sites will set up real-world shopping experiences
  • Mobile will continue to grow and become more important
  • Stores with omnichannel strategies will continue to thrive

That's not all. There are some other trends and developments that are bound to influence shopping this holiday season:

  • We've all got chip and pin cards here in the US (my entire wallet has been replaced over the past two months or so)
  • The Apple watch and other wearables are entering the mainstream
  • Contactless mobile payments, including Apple Pay and many others, have hit an inflection point

Think about all that for a few minutes. With all this change happening online and at the store counter, we'll see some changes in the way people buy over the remainder of 2015.

An Unexpected Surge in Mobile Traffic
When you consider all the ways that shopping has changed between last year and this year, it makes the Best Buy outage of Black Friday 2014 seem a little...quaint.

For those who don't remember what happened, Best Buy's online store was down for 90 minutes on Black Friday last year. The reported cause was a "surge in traffic from mobile devices." The public may never truly know, but the idea that this was a surge of mobile users who affected the entire site is an almost antiquated idea one year later.

First of all, surges - no matter where they come from - are what Black Friday is all about. The job of a performance engineer in the weeks and months leading up to Black Friday is to ensure that the application, the infrastructure, and the organization supporting it are all prepared for that surge.

Second of all, the recognition that the problem was caused by a surge in mobile traffic - specifically - reveals that Best Buy had not been thinking about all the ways modern shoppers interact with their brand. When you are looking at the performance of an integrated system - one back-end that serves both mobile and non-mobile users - you have to develop a set of test scenarios that mimic users' behaviors as accurately as possible. Clearly, Best Buy dropped the ball on that front.

But we don't want you to repeat their mistake. So, here are a number of aspects of the modern shopping experience that you should be prepared for so you can write realistic test cases and protect your site the day after Thanksgiving and beyond.

The Modern Shopping Experience

  1. Consumers shop on their phones while in the store. You should expect to see mobile users browsing your site, comparing prices, and even ordering over their phones - while in the very stores they are patronizing online. Confirm this behavior using your analytics package and then build some strong mobile test cases to operate during normal retail hours.
  2. Users also shop online over the course of several days or even weeks using both their PCs and their phones. It's dangerous to think of a "mobile-only" user. Recognize that the same people use multiple devices in different ways and reflect that in your test cases.
  3. People often make wishlists, and then do all their purchasing at once. Thanks to dedicated apps like Wunderlist and features on websites like Amazon, buyers can easily collect all the items they want to shop for in one place and then make those purchases in a convenient way and at a convenient time. You can make some test cases that mimic this type of burst-purchase behavior - particularly in the final few days of the shopping season!
  4. Coupons mean you almost never have to pay full price! These days many people use promo codes, coupon apps, RetailMeNot, and other mobile-enabled systems to get the best deals they can. If you offer coupons, be sure to thoroughly test all scenarios: coupons sent by the store over email, redeemed in person, coupons delivered over the mail, redeemed online, mobile app-based deals cashed in at the counter - these are all legitimate couponing strategies.
  5. Online shopping and online delivery don't always go together. The idea that you can shop online but pick up in the store is more popular than ever. Or - order something in the store and have it shipped to its destination, with the receipt sent via email. There are all sorts of ways to mix and match the online and offline experiences, so make sure your test cases cover the bases in these respects.
  6. Returns, returns, returns. Maybe consumers didn't get the item they expected, or maybe they intentionally bought shoes in three sizes expecting to return the two that didn't fit. The return process can be initiated online and completed at the store. Like the purchase experience itself, many consumers will find the most convenient way to return that unwanted item, no matter if it's online or offline.
  7. Consumers leave reviews. Remember that the shopping experience does not end with a purchase or even a return. Both happy and unhappy customers will take to social media or dedicated review sites to leave a review for a great salesperson, a disappointing product, or anything else that gives them an excuse to share their feelings with strangers. If your web application includes reviews, be sure to include test cases that exercise those features.

Think about the way you are planning on shopping. Do you see these patterns in your own shopping behavior? The old silos don't necessarily apply anymore. The customer experience is a new, omni-channel one - it's happening now.

Conclusion
The more you understand about how your consumer is using technology to buy this holiday season, the better you can prepare your website to handle the traffic and user pathways that are coming your way. Build test scripts and scenarios that mimic your users' actual journeys and think through the ways that in-store, online, and mobile technologies are converging to create experiences that are completely new this year. Be as realistic as possible, and you'll have no problem getting through the crazy shopping season.

More Stories By Tim Hinds

Tim Hinds is the Product Marketing Manager for NeoLoad at Neotys. He has a background in Agile software development, Scrum, Kanban, Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and Continuous Testing practices.

Previously, Tim was Product Marketing Manager at AccuRev, a company acquired by Micro Focus, where he worked with software configuration management, issue tracking, Agile project management, continuous integration, workflow automation, and distributed version control systems.

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