Guest Blogger

By Richard Downs, UK Director, Applause

The pandemic forced businesses to adapt quickly. None more so than retailers, and food and drinks brands. They came under immediate pressure as consumers looked to secure food shopping orders. Consequently, supermarkets were overwhelmed. They had to cater for customers in-store, while all other shops were closed, and reorganise their digital strategies to cope with the deluge of home deliveries.

Digital shopping channels became a lifeline for many, and to their credit, the supermarkets and other retail brands rose to the challenge. However, the situation was compounded by the fact that, like the rest of us, software and IT teams were all working remotely. In-house software testing and quality assurance (QA) became untenable as did any attempt to use offshore solutions, due to massive disruption to digital supply chains.

Despite the challenges, retail brands were able to continue releasing new software and launch new features that ensured mobile apps and websites remained available and intuitive. This helped to maintain communications with customers, market products and drive sales. The lessons learned during the early weeks and months of the pandemic, and the ensuing lockdown, have helped to shape new low-contact shopping strategies. These new practices are helping retailers to transition while customers slowly regain their confidence. However, the safety and convenience of customers is paramount. Brands need to be mindful of this and ensure that the digital experience is flawless.

At the beginning of lockdown, we saw huge spikes in contactless home deliveries with online sales reaching peak levels. This has continued despite shops reopening over the last few weeks. Click and collect has also become an important channel for retailers, tempting shoppers back into stores to pick-up their goods. Another practice has emerged in the US known as ‘curbside pick-up’, where orders are made online or over the phone and then placed into the boot of a car or left outside an establishment for someone to collect. This is more prevalent among smaller businesses here in the UK, particularly with restaurants, bakeries and other specialist stores. Many pubs for example, faced with the prospect of no customers to serve, started offering vegetables, meat & fish boxes via telephone order and pick-up.

One of the biggest challenges to increasing the availability of low-contact shopping options is getting the technology right. Retailers need to ensure that experiences are safe, stress-free and seamless to keep customers coming back for more.

Take click and collect and contactless deliveries for example. They are actually very complex interactions. They involve multiple systems working in tandem as well as the participation of different employees, from sales to warehouse operations and logistics. In order to meet – and exceed – customer expectations for any new services or features on a mobile app or website, it’s critical to test the entire business process with all the stakeholders involved, and that includes employees.

Otherwise, the results could be very negative, especially if employees end up wasting customers’ time as they try to navigate unfamiliar systems. Consumers are much more sensitive about their in-person customer experiences because of the pandemic. Even the slightest of issues can lead to higher customer abandonments and lower conversion rates.

Retail brands have adopted crowdtesting techniques to better understand a customer’s experience of low-contact shopping and identify any bugs or points of friction. This allows them to assess the entire process across multiple digital and physical touchpoints to measure how effective low-contact shopping can be and how it can support digital and omnichannel retail strategies.

Crowdsourced testing is a well-established practice among brands that rely on digital properties – everything from websites and mobile apps to voice assistants and IoT experiences – to reach consumers. Even when operating under normal circumstances, in-house and offshore QA teams are limited in their ability to scale to test the digital shopping experience of a specific web or mobile application across all the different operating systems and devices, and in every relevant location.

It’s important to remember that users aren’t always up to date with the newest iPhone or operating system, so brands have to test on older models and versions as well as the ‘ideal’ combination. The crowdsourced model – which leverages a community of testers across all age groups using their own personal devices in real-world situations that mimic where and how customers would actually use the app – provides brands with the capability to scale exponentially and on an on-demand basis, so as to uncover any bugs or issues and capture valuable user feedback. Faced with coordinating QA projects in record time to meet unprecedented demand while working remotely has brought a whole new appreciation to crowdsourced testing.

The retail brands that are investing time into planning, testing and refining low-contact shopping experiences are well placed to win back the hearts and minds of customers and drive revenues during this period of recovery.

Richard is responsible for major accounts at Applause, based in Windsor, UK. He is a long-term advocate of quality having worked for various organisations delivering software to the consumer. He is passionate about ensuring a flawless experience in every customer journey, whether it is physical or digital.

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