In the broadest sense, testing falls into two categories: ongoing evaluation and tweaking to optimize daily performance, and peak load testing to determine overall site capacity and potential breakpoints.
In either case, the only way to quantify user experience is to measure what users are actually experiencing. Unless you’re the local bike shop serving only your immediate area, the testing needs to be done across a wide geography and multiple backbones. And it needs to use an actual Web browser, and go through the same type of page view sequences and transactions as a typical user would. There’s simply no other way to get a true perspective on what users are really experiencing.
GETTING A PERSPECTIVE ON EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE
Ongoing performance testing, done on a routine basis or following upgrades, patches, or redesigns, can be as simple or complex as the site itself. Assuming the back of the house is in order — that servers are performing up to speed and all of the infrastructure is optimized — the focus of the testing is on the front end. Individual pages are tested and analyzed, and those performing below par are deconstructed to identify the structural problems or elements that are causing the slowdowns.
RETAILERS SHOPPING FOR STRATEGIES
A few retailers are feeling upbeat about the coming holiday season. Best Buy is planning to do more holiday hiring than last year, partly because of strengthening demand for flat-screen TVs, smartphones, and netbook computers, and partly because of market share they captured following last year’s demise of Circuit City. Target plans to have 26 new stores open in time for the holidays, including five “Super Target” stores with full grocery departments; this, and more aggressive pricing, are moving Target closer to a head-to-head brawl with Wal-Mart.
Most retailers, however, are simply looking for ways to maximize their share of holiday revenue. Deep and earlier discounting is expected to be widespread. And in a throwback to an earlier era, and at least partly in response to a growing paucity of consumer credit, the layaway plan is making a comeback. K-Mart and its parent company, Sears, are both offering not only in-store layaway plans, but also online versions as well. Consumers can reserve their merchandise and make payments online, and when they are paid in full, pick up their merchandise in the store. Whatever it takes, even down to giving away free gift cards, retailers are doing to get consumers to buy, either in the store or online.