eCommerce is the new retail norm – at least for consumers. This year, retail ecommerce sales in Australia will rise 14.4% to pass $10 billion, accounting for over 4% of total retail sales. In 2018 it is expected to increase to 5.6% of total retail sales.

While pure-play online retailers were quick to capitalise on this opportunity early on, many traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers have had to move quickly to catch up to the online shopping revolution. Have they moved too quickly?

Some of Australia’s biggest and most trusted brands have fallen victim to issues like web pages being slow to load, the website crashing and transactions failing. This is because they weren’t properly prepared and as soon as there were high volumes of visitors and transactions, their software quality issues were uncovered.

Such failures not only frustrate customers, but can severely impact sales and brand reputation. A recent study found 86% of consumers agree that the speed and quality of a website’s performance affects their trust in that company, and nearly 65% of all consumers are not willing to wait more than three seconds for a website to load. With so much competition online, it is all too easy for a customer to leave your website in frustration and move to a competitor’s.

This is why the execution of a seamless online experience is now critical to business survival. Part of this is about a business’ ability to innovate quickly, but of equal importance is the development of quality software. After all, innovation is useless if it doesn’t work properly – much like the quick delivery of a product is no good if the product is damaged. That is why software testing is critical.

Often though, retailers see software testing as a roadblock that holds innovation back. It’s the agility-stability paradox – how can we innovate quick enough to stay competitive while also ensuring our software is stable and secure? 

This is where Agile development methodologies come to the fore. By better integrating the testing process with the software development process through Agile development, retailers can make changes quickly and safely. 

Through Agile development, workflows become more streamlined and a number of build, release and deployment steps become more automated. This increased visibility means the IT deployment process retains the speed of delivery necessary to stay competitive, while providing better controls for testing. 

However, Agile development and testing is more than another process to be adopted. It requires a culture change where quality is valued by everyone in the organisation and is ‘baked in’ to everything they do.

A lot of retail organisations operate on a high volume, low margin business model. That mentality tends to permeate the whole organisation where people are focused on quick and cheap delivery. However, online transactions are complex and sophisticated, and if you want to sell online you need technology that works. There are a lot of steps between the concept of a digital idea to execution, and for a successful execution, you need to have quality assurance baked into the process. The benefit with this is you can refine the idea and get more clarity as it develops. 

By working in this way, companies can move quickly to keep up with competitors, they just need to invest in the infrastructure that will allow them to do it safely. Retailers should think of their website or mobile application as another bricks-and-mortar store. You wouldn’t necessarily build the building yourself, but you would ensure the building was safe and of good quality, in a prime location, and that everything functioned correctly. The same amount of investment and due diligence should be dedicated to your digital assets.

Australian retailers are starting to recognise the benefits of software testing, with most businesses setting up strategic UI/UX groups to monitor usability tests on customer-facing applications. However, the need for speed and agility in development and testing is felt severely in mobile testing teams. Capgemini found more than one-third of IT executives in Australia and New Zealand site the lack of time to test mobile and multi-channel applications a major challenge, and nearly a quarter lack the right testing methods. 

Mobile is the new frontier for Australian retailers and their development teams to conquer. Research from Paypal and Ipsos revealed that mobile shopping in Australia is expected to grow more than 200% by 2016.

Dr. Mark Pedersen is the CTO of software quality and risk mitigation specialist KJR