Home » Warnings of e-Commerce Christmas and Black Friday meltdown for the high street and online retailers

Warnings of e-Commerce Christmas and Black Friday meltdown for the high street and online retailers

by Peter Smyth, tech journalist
7th Oct 21 10:11 am

With the high street already on its knees following the pandemic, which has decimated the retail industry, both physical and online retailers will be desperately looking to their e-commerce systems to make up for lost revenues and profits this Christmas after a disastrous year.

However, British tech bosses are warning of potential systems crash as we approach Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the extra demand running up to the Christmas trading period. Following the Facebook/Instagram and What’s App outage this week  – as all three platforms went down for 6 hours –  this has perfectly highlighted how vulnerable even the biggest tech companies are to systems failures. There is a real concern that e-commerce systems will be pushed to breaking point, with an unprecedented surge in demand from shoppers and issues in the supply chain and delivery fulfilment.

The warning comes as both high street and online retailers look to maximise their revenues and profits against a backdrop of untested e-commerce technology and software. In recent times this has been melded together at breakneck speed by a remote workforce and hasn’t been sufficiently tested. This makes systems vulnerable to coding errors, traffic tsunamis, DDoS attacks, ransomware, malware attacks and DNS provider downtime which will almost certainly lead to a lack of fulfilment, late delivery and even overcharging.

A massive shortage of trained quality engineers in software testing to check, test and maintain software and e-commerce systems has created the perfect storm. Retailers face an unprecedented demand on the supply of products and the delivery of goods to the end user in their post-pandemic recovery and with Christmas only 12 weeks away.

A number of British retailers have reported systems issues and websites crashing as the UK struggles to return to pre-pandemic output and cope with demand. Software testing plays a critical role in e-commerce retailing as we rely on more online purchases.

Two British tech firms – Credersi and ROQ, which are at the forefront of tech training and software testing – are addressing the shortage by training “work-ready” quality engineers through a uniquely designed fast-track training course. They are also increasing their efforts to encourage more women and members of the BAME communities into software testing.

ROQ are pioneers in delivering strategic software testing solutions and providing trained quality engineers. The firm provides services to the likes of legal giants Linklaters, as well as Deloitte, Boots, Specsavers, Unilever, MS Amlin, The Post Office and the NHS.

Stephen Johnson, Founder and CEO of ROQ Software Testing Solutions, is one of the leading figures and experts in the strategic software testing industry.

He said, “As we approach the busiest time of the year with Christmas weeks away, retailers are faced with an unprecedented set of demands from consumers. Demand is outstripping supply and goods are taking longer to manufacture and deliver. Much of this due in part to the factors of Brexit and the pandemic.

“The Facebook/Instagram/What’s App outage this week has also perfectly demonstrated the vulnerability of systems if they are not regularly tested. No company is too big to fall and the impact on any business can be devastating both financially and in losing customer trust and goodwill.

This is also a time when retailers face huge spikes and surges in their e-commerce sites with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and increased online shopping with Christmas demand. Brexit and the pandemic have also created the perfect storm of skills shortages across a number of industries. Software testing provides an essential role to the core functionality of any retail and e-commerce business. Unless you rigorously test systems, you cannot find the weaknesses or vulnerabilities until it’s too late. Often for an e-commerce retailer, this comes at great financial cost and has a major impact on customers.”

In December of last year, the Debenhams website crashed when more than 1 million shoppers tried to access the site. The cloud computing service Fastly took down thousands of websites in multiple countries earlier this year, costing numerous businesses billions in lost revenue. Retailers such as Amazon and eBay also found their websites had disappeared for an hour. These 2 companies alone boast a combined £25 billion in annual sales in the UK, meaning a 1-hour outage would have cost £3 million between them over that period. Other e-commerce sites such as PayPal were also hit and based on their 2020 transactions of $963 billion, the 1-hour outage would have cost them around $106 million.

Johnson continued, “It is absolutely vital that any high street or online retailer with an e-commerce presence ensures that their software testing is put front and centre of their operations. There simply aren’t enough quality engineers to keep up with the demand by British companies and very soon this will reach breaking point. Together with Credersi, we are working to address that issue and will create a ‘best-in-class’ curriculum in software testing, taking candidates on a 14-week course to final certification. Most importantly, the Credersi ROQ curriculum will ensure all academy consultants  are ‘work-ready’ to fill those key roles immediately.”

The skills shortage in software testing has also been accelerated by the offshoring of “testing services” and Brexit. Andy Lord warned of the very real risk that if the UK does not train enough quality engineers for software testing, “there could be disastrous consequences not just for retail and e-commerce, but also business, industry and manufacturing who all need software systems tested.”

Addressing the software testing industry skills shortage post-Brexit, Credersi has teamed up with leading software testing experts ROQ. The two companies have created a British software testing curriculum to train and “fast-track” a new generation of quality engineers with nationally recognised qualifications who are work-ready in 14 weeks. They aim to make the industry much more accessible to people who’d never considered a career in software testing or had but didn’t know how to get into it. Andy Lord has long been a passionate advocate for encouraging more women and members of BAME communities into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Andy Lord, CEO of Manchester-headquartered tech training firm Credersi, said, “Not having enough skilled quality engineers will mean that operating software systems will become vulnerable to bugs, glitches and critical failure. This then has a domino effect and impacts on service delivery across the economy, as well as delays in online retailing and delivery.”

He continued: “In parallel, we only have to look at the current shortage of skilled lorry drivers who deliver our fuel supplies. The lack of skilled tanker drivers in this sector has had a huge impact on the physical delivery of fuel to the UK economy, despite there being plenty of fuel stocks. In turn, this then impacts the haulage industry and courier drivers who are fulfilling the e-commerce deliveries and cannot deliver the goods to their customers. This creates a domino effect and results in situations such as the panic-buying of fuel as we have just seen across the UK.”

The newly created training course will enable students to become a fully qualified quality engineer in software testing. Not only will the engineers gain an ISTQB foundation-level qualification in software testing, but they will also benefit from real-world skills, using contemporary testing tools and techniques. All of the course topics are supported with real-life challenges and projects to ensure scenario planning simulates real-world evaluation.

Training individuals in the skills of being a quality engineer is only the beginning. Andy Lord has long been an advocate for providing people with the softer skills that make them truly work-ready.

On a final note, Andy Lord added: “This should be a wakeup call to ensure that companies invest heavily in training and upskilling their workforces across all business sectors in industry, manufacturing and technology, so we can compete equally on the global stage. Whether it’s training a new generation of lorry drivers to transport goods or fuel, or quality engineers in software testing, by increasing our workforce capacity we minimise and reduce the risks of critical failures.”

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