Why read this? : We explore the ins and outs of testing e-Commerce websites. Learn key user testing principles and how to specify and run e-Commerce website tests. Read this to learn 52 different tests you can run to improve your online store.
As our setting up an online store guides show, there’s a lot of work in running an e-Commerce website. You have to create the right content, offer and buying process to deliver a great D2C experience.
Nobody expects things to go wrong on an e-Commerce site. But if it does, you lose trust. Lose trust and you lose customers.
To deliver the right experience every time, you need to regularly test every customer interaction you have. Which is why this week we look at what’s involved in testing e-Commerce websites.
Testing improves your e-Commerce website
Think about what it takes for just one customer to buy one thing. They have to find the site. Search the site. Find the product. Decide to buy. Enter their details. Wait for delivery. Contact the seller if there’s a problem.
Each of those steps can go wrong if not done properly. You need to make sure everything works by testing. You test everything. Testing e-Commerce websites makes sure your online store works every time customers visit. That builds trust. Customers only shop at stores they trust.
Testing e-Commerce websites - part of Customer Experience
Your overall e-Commerce customer experience covers many different customer interactions.
Though we focus on testing e-Commerce websites here, you should regularly test ALL parts of the customer experience.
Test what happens AFTER a customer orders.
Visitors are only potential customers. That’s nice. But it’s actual customers who pay the bills.
That’s why testing e-Commerce websites is so important. It’s how you make sure you get more actual customers.
It’s part of the launch plan AND part of the ongoing management of the store after launch.
User testing basic questions
Let’s start with some helpful general user testing principles which apply to ALL websites, though here, we’ll apply them to the specifics of testing e-Commerce websites.
These come from Steve Krug’s highly recommended Don’t Make Me Think, which shares his approach to user experience and user testing.
The main principle is asking the questions which go through a visitor’s mind when they land on a new website. The easier it is to answer these questions, the better the experience they’ll have.
The key questions are :-
- Where am I?
- Where do I begin?
- What are the most important things on this page?
- Where did they put (something)?
- Why did they call (something) that?
Website testing process
Those basic questions inform many of the tests we’ll run. But we also need to document and define the parameters of the testing process.
First, list all the tests you plan to run. Documentation and record-keeping is a key part of testing. For each test, write out what you’ll do and what defines success and failure. When you run the test, record the results of the test.
The technology you use can affect the results. So, carry out tests on multiple devices (e.g. laptop, tablet, mobile). Run the tests on different browsers (e.g. Chrome, Firefox and Safari) and operating systems (e.g. Windows and Mac OS) to check the site works on different set-ups.
All good? Great. Let’s start testing.
Header navigation bar tests
The header navigation bar is the first place your customer looks. It contains the most important and frequently used links. As per our design psychology article, it’s an important entry point which sets the tone for the rest of the visit.
Logo / home button
Visitors expect the first item on the header to be the site logo with a link 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.
(applies to all site elements, but mentioned here as the logo is the first design element to be tested).
Visitors want to easily navigate to relevant categories and products. In the header, you need at least a primary set of category links, and for e-Commerce websites with large ranges secondary and even tertiary category links.
So, for example, sites like The Iconic have :-
- primary categories – Women / Men / Kids.
- secondary categories – Clothing / Shoes / Accessories.
- tertiary categories – Activewear / Coats and Jackets / Jeans and many more.
(See our online fashion shopping article for more on The Iconic).
You should test all the links on your category navigation to make sure they take the customer where they need to go. Make sure only relevant products appear when the visitor clicks the link. (Note market research and digital data analysis can help you name and define categories in a way customers will understand).
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. Research shows guest check-out is chosen about 20% more than logged-in check-outs. Best practice is to offer both options.
Having an account makes re-purchasing easier for the customer by storing their details. But make sure account details only capture what you need to make the customer experience better.
Run each test as both a guest and logged-in 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 logged-in user. The username and password log you into the site.
Test 7 : If you have a “remember me” option, close the site as a logged-in user. 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 all the correct personal data displays correctly and is accurate. e.g. name, contact details, payment details, shopping history.
The shopping cart holds details of the product(s) the shopper has chosen to buy. It’s important because it gives the shopper a chance to review and edit their purchase before completing the purchase.
That’s why it’s usually highly visible on the header, as it helps the shopper feel more in control.
The cart page displays relevant product details. For example, name of product, product image, relevant features (e.g. size, colour, dimensions) and price.
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. Prices adjust as quantity changes.
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 display correctly. e.g. delayed delivery on an item, item must be signed for, item has to be delivered separately.
If the shopper is looking for a specific item, it’ll be easier to find by using the search function rather than navigating via 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 with a specific product filter. e.g. size, weight, colour. Results display all products which match that filter
Test 18 : User searches on a shopping experience term. e.g. contact, shipping terms, privacy. Results display the correct page
Test 19 : User enters a term known to NOT be included on the site. The search results display zero results.
Footer navigation bar tests
The footer navigation bar contains important but less frequently used information. What to include varies depending on the context of the site. Common sections include :-
Though viewed less often than the header contents, these still play important roles in the e-Commerce website experience. The following tests help check for accuracy and make sure they work properly.
About Us tells visitors who owns and manages the e-Commerce site. It builds trust by showing there are real people behind the site, and what they stand for.
Include the most relevant facts, but keep it concise enough to be readable.
Test 20 : Check all About Us information is factually correct and up-to-date. Company information can change over time, so review it regularly. (e.g. every 6 to 12 months).
Test 21 : All information is correctly spelled and grammatically correct. This general test applies to ALL parts of the e-Commerce website. We’ve called it out here as About Us is the worst page to have these mistakes. About Us pages need to build trust. Bad spelling and grammar have the opposite effect.
Terms and Conditions
Terms and conditions (T&Cs) outline mutual agreements and obligations between you and visitors to your site. They build trust by defining commitments and detailing what happens where there are issues.
You should get professional advice on the T&Cs as part of your testing of e-Commerce websites. There can be issues if you don’t do it correctly. It’s important to comply with all key regulations.
For example, you should provide factual and correct information, and protect the rights of online shoppers. One way to help do this is to highlight your returns and refunds policy.
If something goes wrong (e.g. product damaged in transit, product wrongly delivered) you should specify where your liability ends. At some point the customer becomes liable (usually once they’ve accepted delivery). How you manage this impacts your delivery costs, so it’s important to include it in the T&Cs.
The T&Cs also outline your rights as the seller. These include the limitation of liability, your rights to accept or decline orders and indemnifying yourself from third-party claims after the sale.
Test 22 : Someone with the relevant expertise and knowledge has reviewed the terms and conditions for accuracy. All links within the T&Cs have been tested.
It’ll cover what data you collect. How you store and use it. And what the customer can do if they want to know what data you hold about them.
Some businesses include the shipping policy in the terms and conditions, but it’s more common to show it separately.
Customers often have specific questions about shipping details. Keeping it separate from the T&Cs makes it more accessible.
The policy should specify your delivery area coverage. This covers which geographic locations you’ll deliver to and any limits such as no delivery to PO Boxes or remote locations.
It should detail delivery costs. That should include any extra charges for delivery to specific locations, delivering within a certain time frame, or for bulky or large items.
It’s usual to include a window of delivery times (e.g. 2-4 business days) unless your order to delivery system can guarantee delivery by certain times (in which case specify that).
Test 24 : The person responsible for the order to delivery system (e.g. supply chain manager) has reviewed the shipping policy and confirms the information is factual and correct.
Your contact details should be easy to find. These can include an email address, a phone number, and if relevant a physical address. It can also include other contact details such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Live Chat.
List times when the store is contactable if enquiries aren’t handled 24-7.
Test 25 : Send an enquiry message using all contact channels. The enquiry is received and responded to within agreed timeframes.
A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page helps customers answer questions without having to contact you.
This is easier for them and reduces the questions you have to deal with.
Make a list of FAQs by asking customers what they want to know. After you launch your e-Commerce store, update it with new questions which come up.
Test 26 : Answers to the FAQs are factually correct and easy to understand.
Shop home page
Home page website design is a big subject in its own right. But in the context of testing e-Commerce websites, there are 4 areas to prioritise :-
Where am I?
Let’s go back to the Don’t Make Me Think usability principles. The first question a new visitor typically has is “Where am I?”.
A clear URL and the logo in the top navigation bar help answer this question. But you can make it even clearer by adding a summary or tagline that states what your site is and what it does.
Test 27 : The URL displays correctly. You use the HTTPs secure certification rather than the standard HTTP.
Test 28 : A new user accesses the home page and can easily describe what the site is for.
Where to start?
For new users, the next question is “Where do I start?”. A “start here” link answers that question. This should cover what the customer needs to do to start using the site.
Test 29 : A new user accesses the home page and can point to information which helps them start shopping.
Most frequently visited pages for returning visitors
For returning visitors, the home page should make it easy to navigate to the categories and products they’re looking for.
You could highlight the most popular pages from all site visitors, or for registered users, show their most frequently visited pages.
Test 30 : The home page displays links to the most popular categories and products for new visitors. All links connect to the correct page.
Test 31 : For logged-in users, previously visited or favourite page links display correctly. All links connect to the correct page.
Error pages display when something goes wrong.
Obviously, as testing e-Commerce websites actively seeks out things that go wrong, you need to make sure there’s an appropriate and helpful message displayed when errors occur.
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 : Test the server where the site is hosted to check what happens when there’s a system outage or the site has to go offline for maintenance. Check a relevant 503 or Maintenance message is shown.
You need to check the basics of product name, image, price and any relevant features and benefits are factually correct. And they display properly when you’re testing e-Commerce websites.
Test 34 : The correct product name displays. This name appears consistently in category and product pages and in shopping carts.
Test 35 : The correct “hero” product image displays. 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 as required.
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 display factually and accurately, and show any inclusions or omissions. These can include tax (GST in Australia, for example), admin fees and delivery costs.
Test 38 : Where the site offers promotional price discounts (e.g. by entering a promotional code), the shopper can enter the code and the new price displays correctly. (Note, on some sites, you can only enter the promo code on the check-out page).
Test 39 : Relevant and required product information such as specifications, features and benefits displays correctly. (Note, this information is usually entered via a product information management system. You should run separate accuracy tests on that system outside of testing e-Commerce websites).
Check-out - permissions
The check-out page starts with the same information as the shopping cart page. You should run the same tests (tests 10-14) to adjust quantities, remove items and empty the cart.
But check-out also confirms the order and captures shipping and payment details. Checking these get captured properly is an important part of testing e-Commerce websites.
Test 40 : If your store has a maximum order size (e.g. max number of units or max order value), make this clear on the check-out page. Test to order more than the maximum. This should be rejected. A warning message re-stating the limits should display and ask the customer to adjust their order.
Test 41 : The check-out page should include a tick box for the shopper to accept the site T&Cs. The transaction shouldn’t go through until the button is ticked. A warning message should display if the customer tries to check out without ticking the box.
Test 42 : If relevant, include an additional “permission to leave” tick-box. This helps improve the order to delivery process by reducing the need for re-deliveries. Test it works and fits with your shipping policy.
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. This is usually done with a tick box. You need to test the tick-box works correctly.
Check-out - order details
In the shipping information, capture the customer’s name (ideally as two separate data fields for first name and last name), their title (Mr, Mrs, Miss etc) and their delivery address.
These fields 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 need this to contact customers about the order’s progress.
Test 44 : Make clear filling in 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 progress 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, test an address that includes a PO Box. Make sure the system doesn’t accept it. If you only deliver to certain locations e.g. specific postcodes or countries, try to place orders from invalid postcodes or countries. Make sure these orders are declined.
Test 46 : If you use an address validation service like Google Maps Autocomplete, test addresses which you know are valid. Test ordering from addresses which you know are invalid. Make sure valid orders are accepted and invalid orders declined.
You should include a tick-box that allows the shopper to say billing information is the same as the shipping information. But where it isn’t e.g. deliveries to work addresses or gift orders, you need to test entering different billing information.
Test 47 : Check the Billing Address matches Shipping Address tick-box can be toggled on and off. When off, check billing address details can be entered on the form. Repeat tests 44 – 46 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 set up and connect a payment gateway system to process payments into your bank account. (See our order to delivery guide 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. Check the system accepts a valid order.
Test 49 : Try to place an order with a deliberately invalid set of details. For example, a made-up name / credit card number. 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 that “break” these rules. Make sure the system declines these invalid orders.
Post - purchase notifications
Once the order is placed, you have to keep the customer informed of the order’s progress and status. You can email / SMS them or have an automatically updated tracking page showing 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 send an email or SMS when the order is received, dispatched, and then 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 customer notification. 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
Testing e-Commerce websites is how you make sure they work, and how you make sure they keep your customers happy.
This list of tests covers the most common things which go wrong. But, of course, every store creates different experiences. You may find you have other more specific tests to run.