12 January, 2021

Supermarket websites struggle amid latest lockdown

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Supermarkets' online shopping operations have come under strain with customers rushing to book deliveries as the new coronavirus lockdown began. Within a couple of hours of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's speech to the nation on January 4th, many shoppers reported problems with Ocado, Sainsbury's and Tesco’s online ordering websites.

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With Brexit, the more virulent strain of coronavirus and now a national lockdown, consumers have progressively switched to online shopping. To ensure a great service is provided Retailers simply cannot afford to have a slow or unresponsive website – especially as customers are demanding immediate response times and the majority are happy to move on to a competitors’ website if kept waiting.

In our recent analysis, the ability of several supermarket websites to cope with a surge in traffic over Christmas had already been called into question following testing of their speed, ease of navigation and security. Our analysis found all but four of the major online grocery sites had below average scores on a range of metrics regarding their ability to hold up to increased user numbers.

During a time where consumers are shifting to online shopping more than ever, our research revealed that supermarkets still have room for improvement, with slow speed, poor image quality and broken links threatening user experience. Many of the poorer performers cannot afford to let a poor performing website impact forthcoming sales.

In light of Edge’s research findings and the surge again in online shopping, Edge recommends that retailers undertake:

Load and performance review of their e-commerce capability - which would include analysing:

Current website performance capability (to provide a benchmark)

Measuring scalability – most retailers should have the necessary mechanisms in place to auto-scale their websites however auto-scale effectiveness also depends on the overall architecture of the web supporting systems

Website load balancers plus all other business logic sitting behind the servers

Ascertaining ability to manage forecasted traffic spikes (incorporating forecasted traffic for seasonal retail campaigns plus taking into consideration the increased traffic COVID-19 has driven to e-commerce)

Identifying supporting server capability / capacity

Speed and agility – the ability to change the web site contents with the latest value propositions and services without impacting performance

Identifying what is slowing down the website’s performance (e.g. weighty images, ineffective caching approach, poor coding techniques, lack of compression techniques)

Apply the necessary changes and refinements to optimise their websites performance capability.

Separate review and potentially performance test of order fulfilment – many retailers may have highly effective and well-maintained websites however the weak link may be the internal or external order fulfilment mechanism. Edge works with several order fulfilment companies who now find themselves with a drastically increased level of demand through the impact of COVID-19 on e-commerce, for example Yodel recently created 3,000 jobs to meet the increased buying surge. Thus, the supporting order fulfilment systems must also be able to manage previously unseen levels of orders.

Housekeeping initiative to minimise the number of broken links - this would be a straightforward exercise to undertake and there are various tools on the market which can speed up the review process. A well-maintained website performs faster and provides a smoother shopping experience for the customer.

Review of the websites pen test capability to withstand malware and cyber attacks - pen testing should be considered as an ongoing activity rather than a set of snapshot tests. As websites are amended, expanded and include additional linkages, new cyber risks and weaknesses can be introduced. Therefore, ongoing Pen Testing as a business as usual process should be undertaken.


By Richard Mort, Edge Testing

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