Holiday Success Starts Now: The Importance of Early Testing
As we welcome spring and put the winter of 2016 behind us, preparing for the upcoming holidays is far from the top of most minds. For the majority of us, this makes sense and is an appropriate mindset for early spring. For retail supply chain managers, however, the time to prepare for a successful holiday shopping season is now. Order Management systems and Distribution Management systems, and both of their infrastructures, are put under extreme stress over the holiday season and during other peak shopping periods (think back-to-school shopping sprees). The growth of e-commerce shopping only exacerbates the issue, with orders pouring in at all hours and the level of customer service expectations rising by the minute. Demands on today’s retail supply chain systems are higher than ever, and they continue to grow.
To adapt to this new normal, retailers – both traditional and online – must prepare and test their software infrastructure regularly, well ahead of these peak times. This may sound like a time-consuming process, but it’s a critical step in the prevention of what could be a costly system failure. It’s also important to note that retailers can build reusable test infrastructures, meaning it’s not necessary to start from scratch during every testing cycle. This saves time and assists with scaling as demands on the system grow. Let’s take a look at some of the ways retailers can prepare for testing now to ensure a successful holiday shopping season.
Learn From the Past
An important first step for retailers preparing for peak seasons is to do an analysis of what happened over the past few holiday peak times. How much did volume spike? What items were most popular? Where did issues arise? Having this baseline helps retailer’s project anticipated volume in the seasons to come and have a better idea of potential problem areas in the system that should receive extra attention and testing.
If your distribution system includes software from various vendors, engage with those concerned and set up a test (or a series of tests) that simulates peak shopping times. If possible, plan to test the system several times. Generally, the whole cycle of running the test, fixing any issues and rerunning the test can last anywhere from four to eight weeks, and the testing rounds should begin five to seven months in advance of expected peak loads. Simply put, it’s never too early to test.
Think Beyond the Website
Often, when we hear about outages, we think about websites that can’t handle peak traffic levels. True, websites should certainly be tested regularly to address this concern, but attention must also be given to back end systems. Testing the order management system that sits behind the website is critical to ensure top notch, uninterrupted service during peak shopping periods. Conduct a risk based analysis of the potential system failures that pose the largest threat to service levels. Pick a few of these possible failure points, and push them with simulated test runs to determine their breaking points. A failure point could be something as small as an incorrect customer packing slip that accompanies each order.
The bottom line is that while testing is nobody’s favorite job, it is a critical practice to ensure customer satisfaction and financial success during peak shopping periods. And while website outages often get the most attention, the importance of testing extends across the entire backbone of the supply chain system.
The holidays may be far from our minds, but the time is now for retailers to prepare for the busy season to come. Deploying thorough, well designed performance tests months in advance to ensure the integrity of the entire system could mean the difference between a successful holiday season and a holiday season of despair.