Stupid QA tricks: Colossal testing oversights

The trick to nipping IT miscues is testing, testing, testing, as these hard-luck lessons in boneheaded quality assurance attest

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Testing oversight: Widespread glitches in Web site upgrade

Consequence: Clothier J. Crew suffers huge financial losses and widespread customer dissatisfaction in wake of "upgrade" that blocks and fouls up customer orders for a month.

On June 28, 2008, engineers took down the Web site for clothes retailer J. Crew for 24 hours to perform an upgrade. In terms of the results of this effort, one might argue that the site did not in fact come back online for several weeks, even though it was still serving pages.

The company's 10-Q filing summarized the problems: "During the second quarter of fiscal 2008 we implemented certain direct channel systems upgrades which impacted our ability to capture, process, ship and service customer orders." That's because the upgrade essentially prevented site visitors from doing anything other than look at photos of fashionable clothes.

Among the problems reported by customers was this whopper: A man who ordered some polo shirts received, instead, three child-size shirts and a bill for US$44.97 for the shirts, plus US$9,208.50 for shipping. And before you ask, no, they weren't hand-delivered by a princess in an enchanted coach.

As a result, the company temporarily shut down e-mail marketing campaigns designed to drive business to the Web site. It also had to offer discounts, refunds, and other concessions to customers who couldn't correct orders conducted online or who received partial or wrong orders.

But the biggest story is how the Web site upgrade affected the company's bottom line. In a conference call with investors in August, CFO James Scully said, "The direct system upgrades did impact our second-quarter results more than we had anticipated and will also impact our third-quarter and fiscal-year results," according to a transcript of the call.

Ouch.

Testing tip: When your company's bottom line depends on the availability of your Web site, there's no excuse for not running a thorough internal trial to probe the functionality of the entire site before you throw that update live to the world. Bring everyone on the Web team into the office, buy a bunch of pizzas, and tell them to click absolutely everything. And keep full backups of your old site's front and back end, just in case you do somehow push a broken site update live and need to revert to save your company from unmitigated disaster.

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Andrew Brandt

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