Snapshot : Testing e-Commerce websites is key to making sure the online shopping experience works perfectly every time. In this article, we focus on the website systems and processes that shape the online shopper’s experience and share 52 tests you should run to perfect your online store.
Nobody expects things to go wrong on an e-Commerce site. Until they do go wrong.
There’s a lot of work goes into online stores – the right content, the right buttons, the right systems and processes.
To get all those things right, and to get those things right every time is a learning process. You have to get a lot of things wrong, before you start getting everything right.
That means testing. Lots of testing.
Welcome to the vital but unglamorous world of testing e-Commerce websites.
Testing is hard work but makes your e-Commerce website work for customers
Digital evangelists grab a lot of the headlines about e-Commerce, but the people who actually “do” e-Commerce know there’s a lot of hard graft goes in below the surface.
To understand what e-Commerce websites do, bring it down to what needs to happen for one customer to buy one thing.
List out all the steps. Find the site. Search the site. Find the product. Decide to buy. Enter your details. Wait for delivery. Contact us if there’s a problem.
Follow each step of the process and customers change from random web-page visitor to someone willing to give you their credit card details in return for what you’re selling.
Your job as an online store manager or owner is to make sure each of these steps runs smoothly. That each step meets the customer needs. To do that, you need to test out each step.
Testing e-Commerce websites may not be the most glamorous or fun parts of e-Commerce, but it’s what makes sure your shopping experience actually works for your customers.
You need that to build trust, keep customers happy and keep them coming back for more.
Testing e-Commerce websites is part of your CX testing plan
But, when you set up an online store, you’ll want to test ALL parts of what the customer will experience.
This includes tests on what happens BEFORE a customer visits your website. You need to test all your digital marketing like the SEO set-up, digital media links and social media pages and posts that point to the online store website.
You’ll also want to test what happens AFTER your customer places an order. You need to check key actions within your order to delivery system like payments, dispatch and delivery and customer service support.
The online store website is what links the before and after parts of the overall online shopping experience. If that links broken or doesn’t work as well as it should, you won’t get the sales you want.
That’s why testing e-Commerce websites is so important, because it helps turns potential customers into actual customers.
But as an action, it’s not just a launch event. You need regular testing to be part of your on-going management of the store after you launch.
User testing general principles
Before we get into the specific of testing e-Commerce websites, it’s worth having some general user testing principles in mind. We took these from Steve Krug’s excellent Don’t Make Me Think, which we highly recommend reading to better understand user experience and user testing.
The book starts by asking the basic questions that go through the mind of the average visitor to any website. Your website’s job is to make sure it can answer those questions. Obvious and easy answers so the customer doesn’t have to think about them.
Questions increases the cognitive load on the user and makes their visit harder. Your answers should reduce the cognitive load and make their visit easier.
Example questions include :-
- Where am I? – be obvious what the page is, and what it’s for.
- Where do I begin? – make an obvious start point for new visitors.
- What are the most important things on this page? – make the most important content – information, action buttons, links – be easy to spot.
- Where did they put (something)? – put the most common website features and functions (e.g. the home page / logo, the shopping cart link) in the places where people expect to find them.
- Why did they call it that? Use the simplest and clearest language you can. Test it out with people who don’t know your business. Avoid overly complex or technical language. People don’t bother with what they don’t understand.
Testing documentation and specifications
With those general principles in mind, let’s move on to look at how you run specific tests on usability and the e-Commerce website experience.
Firstly, you should list out all the tests you plan to run. For each test, document which section of the site the test is on, what customer action you’ll be testing and what the desired success outcome is. Record the result of each test (success for failure) with the team who’ll need to fix anything that’s not working.
You should carry out each test on multiple devices (e.g. laptop, tablet, mobile) and with different browsers (e.g. Chrome, Firefox and Safari) and different operating systems (e.g. Windows and Mac OS) to make sure the site works for most customers.
Header navigation bar tests
The header navigation bar is the first place your customer looks. It should contain the most important and most frequently used links. As per our article on design psychology, it’s an important entry point that sets the tone for the rest of the visit.
Logo / home button
Visitors expect the first item on the header to be site logo with a link that takes you back to the home page.
Test 1 : Clicking the logo returns you to the homepage.
Test 2 : Logo displays correctly on all devices, browsers and operating systems and in portrait / landscape orientations. (a general test which applies to all design elements so we won’t repeat it for each section).
Visitors want to easily navigate to relevant categories and products. In the header, you’d expect at least a primary set of category links, and for e-Commerce website with large ranges secondary and even tertiary category links sitting below those.
So, for example, sites like The Iconic have :-
- primary categories based on the customer like Women / Men / Kids.
- secondary categories like Clothing / Shoes / Accessories.
- tertiary categories like Activewear / Coats and Jackets / Jeans.
(see also our article on online fashion shopping for more on The Iconic shopping experience).
However, the category navigation is set up on your e-Commerce website, you need to test the links all take the customer where they need to go. You need to test that only products relevant to that category filter appear when the visitor clicks the link.
Test 3 : Primary category links connect to relevant category landing pages.
Test 4 : Secondary (and tertiary if appropriate) category links connect to relevant category landing pages.
Most sites offer the option of guest check-out or setting up an account. Recent research shows the guest check-out option is chosen about 20% more than the logged-in check-out, so from an online selling point of view, you should offer both options.
Account set-up makes re-purchasing easier by storing customer details with a history of past orders. Take care to only ask for details you need to make the customer experience better.
When testing you run each test as both a guest and signed-up user, unless the test specifies to focus on one or the other.
Test 5 : Access the site as a guest user. Click to set up an account and go to the account set-up page.
Test 6 : Access the site as a signed-up user. The user name and password log you in to the account details page.
Test 7 : If you have a “remember me” option, as an existing user close the site. Re-open the site and access account details without logging in again.
Test 8 : Test the forgot username or password function. Clicking this option sends an email (or SMS) and the user can change or update access details.
Test 9 : Log-in as a registered user, and make sure that all the correct personal data – name, contact details, payment details, shopping history – displays correctly and is accurate.
The shopping cart holds the details of the current product(s) the shopper wants to buy on this visit.
It’s an important part of the shopper experience because unless you have a one-click purchase option (rare outside Amazon), it gives the shopper a chance to review and edit their purchase before completing the transaction.
That’s why it’s usually highly visible on the header, as it helps the shopper feel in control of their purchase.
The cart page displays relevant product details – name of product, a product image, any relevant features (e.g. size, colour, dimensions) and the price.
The cart should also display an overall price total that includes discounts (e.g. promotional code offers) and any additional fees (e.g. admin fees and shipping costs).
Test 10 : Add a product to the cart from a product and category page. Relevant product appears in the shopping cart.
Test 11 : Quantity of each item is clearly displayed. You can adjust the quantity easily. Price changes reflect the new quantity.
Test 12 : There’s an option to remove items from the cart once added. Removing items refreshes the page and the items are removed.
Test 13 : When all items are removed, shopping cart shows an “empty cart” message.
Test 14 : Any special stock or delivery messages attached to the product are displayed correctly. e.g. delayed delivery on an item, item must be signed for, item has to be delivered separately.
If the user is looking for a specific item in your store, it’s easier to find by entering a search term in the search bar, rather than navigate through the category sections.
Test 15 : User searches for a specific category. All items tagged with that category display in the results.
Test 16 : User searches for a specific product. Correct product (including all variations) shows in the results.
Test 17 : User searches on a specific product filter – e.g. size, weight, colour. All products which match that filter are displayed.
Test 18 : User searches on a shopping experience term – e.g. contact, shipping terms, privacy. The correct page is displayed.
Test 19 : User enters a term known to NOT be included on the site – the search results display 0 results.
Footer navigation bar tests
The footer navigation bar normally contains important but less frequently searched for information. Contents and specific sections can vary by site.
Common examples include :-
Though less frequently than the header navigation, these are play important roles in the e-Commerce website experience. All these sections should be part of your checklist for testing e-Commerce websites.
This section tells visitors who you are. It builds trust for new visitors by showing who owns and operates the e-Commerce site and what it stands for.
Aim to make it detailed enough to be informative, but not so detailed that customers don’t read it.
Test 20 : Check all About Us information is factually correct and up-to-date. Company information can change over time, so review on a regular basis. (e.g. every 6 to 12 months).
Test 21 : All information is correctly spelled and grammatically correct. This is a general test that applies to ALL parts of the e-Commerce website. We’ve called it out specifically for About Us, because it’s the worst page to make a mistake on. About Us pages aim to build trust, but bad spelling and poor grammar can destroy trust.
Terms and Conditions
Terms and conditions outline your obligations to website visitors, and what customers agree to when they interact with your site. They build trust by defining commitments on both sides and detailing what happens where there are disputes or issues.
You should consider seeking professional advice on the Terms and Conditions as part of your testing of e-Commerce websites. There can be negative consequences to your business if not done correctly.
When you sell online, make sure you comply with regulations on providing factual and correct information, and protecting the rights of shoppers who buy online.
For example, you need to outline your returns and refunds policy for shoppers unhappy with their purchase. If something goes wrong (e.g. the product gets damaged while being shipped, or the product is wrongly delivered) you need to specify who’s liable and at what point liability moves from you to the customer. (usually at the point of delivery).
The terms and conditions also outline your rights as the seller, including the limitation of liability, your rights to accept or decline orders and indemnifying yourself from third-party claims after the sale is complete.
Test 22 : The terms and conditions have been reviewed by someone with the relevant expertise and knowledge. All links within the T&Cs have been tested.
It’ll also cover what data you collect, how you store and use it, and what the customer can do if they have an enquiry about the data you hold.
Though it’s possible to include the shipping policy in the terms and conditions, it’s more common to show it as a separate page.
Customers often have specific questions about shipping details. Keeping it separate from the general T&Cs makes it easier to find and understand.
The policy should specify where you will and won’t deliver to. e.g. geographic locations and types of delivery address (you won’t deliver to a PO Box or to remote locations for example).
It should detail shipping costs including any additional charges related to delivery to specific locations, delivering within a certain time frame or additional costs for bulky or large items.
If your order to delivery system can guarantee delivery by a certain time then include that, though it’s more common to include a window of delivery times (e.g. 2-4 business days) than a specific delivery time.
Test 24 : The person responsible for managing the order to delivery system (e.g. supply chain manager) has reviewed the shipping policy and agrees that the information provided is factual and correct.
Contact details for any enquiries should be easy to find. This would, at minimum, include an email address and a phone number, and depending on the business, may also include a physical location address. It can also include other contact details such as Facebook messenger, Whats App and Live Chat.
You should also include times of when the store is contactable, if enquiries are not handled 24-7.
Test 25 : A user uses all forms of the contact details provided. Their enquiry is received and responded to within agreed timeframes.
ADD IMAGE – THREE-BRAINS FAQs
A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page helps customers answer questions without having to contact you directly. This makes it quicker and easier for them and for you.
You should gather likely FAQs via market research before you launch your e-Commerce store, and update this page with any new questions which come in after you launch.
Test 26 : All questions are answered in a factually correct and easy to understand way.
We could easily write a whole separate article on home page website design. But in the context of testing e-Commerce websites, there are four key areas we recommend you test.
Where am I?
Going back to the Don’t Make Me Think usability principles, one of the first questions a new visitor will have is “where am I?”.
Obviously, your URL and your logo in the navigation bar help orient them. But it helps to add an additional reminder of exactly what your site is and what it does.
This might be a tagline for example, or a short “Hello, we are …” type statement that makes it clear where the visitor is.
Test 27 : The URL displays correctly. You use the HTTPs secure certification for your URL rather than the standard HTTP format.
Test 28 : A new user should access the home page and be able to easily point to a statement that tells them what the site is for.
Where to start?
Similarly, for new users, you should include some sort of “start here” information or link. This doesn’t need to be detailed, but should cover the key points of what the customer needs to do to shop on your site.
Test 29 : A new user should access the home page and be able to point to information that helps them to start shopping.
Most frequently visited pages for returning visitors
For regular visitors, the home page should enable them to quickly navigate to the categories and products they most want to see.
This can be based on the most popular pages from all site visitors, or if the customer is a registered user, it can show their most frequently visited pages.
Test 30 : The home page displays links to the most popular categories and products for general visitors. All links take the user to the correct page.
Test 31 : For registered users, any page links that shows previous or favourite pages display correctly and take the user to the correct page.
The user sees error pages when something goes wrong.
Part of the testing of e-Commerce websites should be that you have the correct error pages set up, and appropriate and helpful messages are displayed.
Test 32 : User enters a deliberately incorrect product page URL e.g. yoursite.com/rubbishpage and a 404 – page not found message is displayed.
Test 33 : The person or organisation responsible for hosting is able to test that if there is a system outage or the site has to go off-line for maintenance, an appropriate 503 or Maintenance message is shown.
But in the context of testing e-Commerce websites, you need to test that the basic components of product name, image, price and any relevant features and benefits are correct.
Test 34 : The correct name of the product is displayed. This appears consistently in category and product pages and in shopping carts.
Test 35 : The correct “hero” image of the product is displayed. This appears consistently in category and product pages and in shopping carts. This includes any variations e.g. selecting different colours or sizes changes the image appropriately.
Test 36 : All secondary images (e.g. showing the product from different angles) display accurately and correctly. Any zoom functionality to view products close-up works correctly.
Test 37 : All prices are displayed factually and accurately, and show any inclusions or omissions. These can include tax (GST in Australia for example), admin fees and any shipping costs.
Test 38 : Where the site offers promotional price discounts (e.g. by entering a promotional code), this can be entered and the new price displayed. (Note, on some sites, the promo code may only be applied on the check-out page).
Test 39 : Relevant and required product information such as specifications, features and benefits is correctly displayed. (Note, this information is usually organised via a product information management system. You may want to run separate accuracy tests on that outside of testing e-Commerce websites).
Check-out – permissions
The check-out page starts with the same information as the shopping cart page . It should run similar tests (tests 10-14) to adjust quantities, remove items and to empty the cart.
However, confirmation of the order through check-out moves the customer on to the important shipping and billing details. These require additional tests as part of your process testing e-Commerce websites.
Test 40 : If your store has a maximum order size (either in terms of number of units or the value of an order), make this clear on the check-out page. Test to order more than the specified maximum in terms of units or value. This “over” order should trigger a warning message re-stating the limits and ask the customer to reduce their order.
Test 41 : The check-out page should include an empty tick box that the shopper ticks to accept the terms and conditions of the site. The shopper should not be able to complete the transaction while the button is unticked. They should receive a warning message if they try to check out without ticking the box.
Test 42 : If appropriate, an additional “permission to leave” tick-box should be included. This can help improve the order to delivery process by reducing the need for re-deliveries.
Test 43 : If your site offers a reminder service or subscriptions (i.e. sending product on a regular basis), the user needs to give permission to be re-contacted, or for you to process future orders and payments. You’ll need to ask them to tick a box to give permission, and test that the tick-box works correctly.
Check-out – order details
With a product selected for your test, you now test how your e-Commerce site handles an actual order. This includes testing that you gather delivery details and process transactions correctly, and links directly to testing your order to delivery system.
In the shipping information, capture the customers name (ideally as two separate data fields for first name and last name), their title (Mr, Mrs, Miss etc) and their delivery address.
These field should all be mandatory. You can’t deliver without them.
If you haven’t already asked for them, then also ask for preferred contact details e.g. an email address and / or a contact telephone number. You’ll need this to keep customers informed on the progress of their order.
Test 44 : Make clear completion of all shipping information fields is mandatory. Try to place a test order while leaving each field blank. Make sure a warning message appears asking the customer to complete the field and the order doesn’t go forward with missing information.
Test 45 : Check the delivery option only allows delivery to valid addresses that match your shipping policy. For example, if you don’t deliver to PO Boxes, put in an address that includes a PO Box. Make sure the system doesn’t accept it. If you only deliver to certain geographic locations e.g. specific postcodes or countries, try to place orders from invalid postcodes or countries. Again, make sure the order is declined.
Test 46 : If you use an additional address validation service like Google Maps Autocomplete, test placing orders from address which you know are valid. Test placing orders from addresses which you know are invalid. Make sure valid orders are accepted, and invalid orders declined.
The default option on most e-Commerce websites is to tick a box that says the billing information matches the shipping information. However, this is not always the case. If you ask for an order to be delivered to your work address for example, or you are sending a gift, you’ll need to enter different billing information.
Test 47 : Check the Billing Address matches Shipping Address can be toggled on and off. If toggled off, additional billing address details can be entered on the form. Repeat tests 43 – 45 for the billing address.
Payment will usually be via credit card – Mastercard, Visa or American Express – or via a payment service provider like PayPal or Afterpay.
You’ll need to have set up and connected a payment gateway system to process payments into your bank account. (see our guide on order to delivery for more on this).
Normally, these systems give you “dummy” payment details you can use to test your system pre-launch. (they simulate a payment).
Test 48 : Using your “dummy” payment details, complete the relevant sections of the payment form – name, card number, expiry date, CVV code – and test that the system accepts a valid order.
Test 49 : Try to place an order with a deliberately invalid set of details – a made up name / credit card number for example. Make sure the system declines invalid payments.
Test 50 : If you’ve set up any payment rules within your payment gateway – e.g. reject orders over a certain value or from specific countries – try to place orders which “break” these rules. Make sure the system declines these invalid orders.
Post – purchase notifications
Once the order is placed, you need to keep the customer informed of the order progress and status. You can either push out direct messages e.g. email, or have an automatically updated tracking page where they can follow their order’s progress.
Test 51 : After placing an order, run it through your order to delivery system. Make sure notification alerts are sent out correctly to the customer. For example you can send emails or alerts when the order is received, when it’s dispatched and when it’s delivered.
Test 52 : If your delivery service provider allows delivery tracking – e.g. by providing you a code / link when they receive your order, place an order and check this code / link appears in the notification to the customer. Make sure the details of the code / link reflect the actual progress of the order. If the code / link fails at any point, test to make sure the customer can easily find your contact details.
Conclusion - testing e-Commerce websites
In this article, we’ve covered the most common scenarios you’ll need for testing e-Commerce websites.
Depending how you set up your online store customer experience, there may well be more tests, but this will give you solid base of tests to work from on any e-Commerce website.
As we said at the start, testing e-Commerce websites is vital but unglamorous. It’ll keep your customers happy, but it takes a lot of hard work.