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Preview Internet Retailing Expo: Luke Fairless, head of IT operations, Tesco.com

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Preparation is everything, and it falls to Luke Fairless, head of IT operations at Tesco.com to make sure all of Tesco’s web sites, servers and networks can cope with the wildest peaks of trading. In the world of ecommerce it’s particularly difficult to know how systems will perform, for instance during the day that half the country simultaneously sit down to place their massive Christmas food order.

“My colleagues in stores know what the maximum capacity every store has because there are a finite number of tills working at any time,” says Fairless. “But with online sales you just don’t know how many people will be trying to browse or transact at a given time. There are a lot of unknowns, but we have found that thorough incredibly robust testing of our systems we can at least understand where pressure points might be, make sure surges in activity can be handled, and take the necessary steps to avoid disaster on peak trading days.”

He says ongoing monitoring of Tesco’s sites – which now include Tesco.com, Tesco Direct, a wine ordering site, a Clubcard site, travel and entertainment sites among others – gives him the assurance and visibility that sites are working day-to-day. “Our monitoring takes the form of 45 different simulated journeys around each site, and that happens every three minutes, 24 hours a day, so I know how everything is operating, at all times,” says Fairless.

In the last year Tesco has been paying particular attention to” those creaking-at-the-seams moments” that test systems to the limit, explains affable Fairless, who has been at Tesco for almost eight years. At this year’s Evolution Conference, on Day One of the Internet Retailing Expo, he will be discussing the subject of website service availability, alongside Agnes Gough, sales and marketing director of SciVisum. Together they’ll be revealing how SciVisum's dynamic user journey monitoring system has given insights into the reliability and capacity of Tesco’s web sites, ensuring systems errors are identified and rectified before customer service takes a hit.

Testing delivers ROI

Following the re-platforming of the main grocery web site last year, Tesco went about “testing the hell out of it” around May right through to October, determined to iron out problems well before the volumes of Christmas kicked in. “We were working fine with new servers but really needed to see what happened with extreme numbers of site visitors and credit card transactions,” says Fairless. “At off-peak trading times we ran through simulated customer journeys, stressing it to breaking point and looking at how to fix any pressure points that showed up. We pushed it to the limits, made some changes, pushed it to the limit again. We did that process four times, and the result was complete confidence in the systems. The investment paid off.”

Another testing programme recently focused on the performance limits of the Tesco Grocery App, making use of SciVisum’s mobile monitoring solution. “The idea is to reduce the unknowns and protect sales of course, but having an unreliable web site or app is a reputational risk too. In this business you simply can’t afford to give the impression you can’t cope,” says Fairless.
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