By Terry Storrar, MD, Leaseweb UK
Many household high street names have been badly impacted as a result of continued global lockdowns over the past year. Debenhams, Peacocks, Jaeger, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and the members of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group: Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Miss Selfridge, have had to close their doors to the public for good.
Yet, while the pandemic restrictions put existential pressure on many retail brands, others saw an unprecedented demand for their online services. In the UK, for example, online consumer spending soared to the highest on record in April 2020 at 30.7% of the total, compared with the 19.1% reported in April 2019. But, even when bricks-and-mortar stores reopened, the demand for e-commerce services remained strong. And with continued waves of COVID-19 infections likely, there will be even more pressure placed on high street retail; it’s clear that an effective digital presence is absolutely necessary for the long-term viability of many businesses across the sector.
But, this isn’t just a matter of simply augmenting in-person shopping by launching a website that can take orders and handle deliveries. In order to run a successful e-commerce business, it’s vital to invest in the right IT infrastructure – one that will provide speed, reliability, and security to deliver an effective online shopping experience. The last thing that businesses want in these challenging times is unhappy online customers who cannot access or use retail websites efficiently, and shop elsewhere as a result.
Every cloud has a silver lining
This means striking a balance between technical and customer requirements. From a technical standpoint, hybrid cloud-based solutions are offering retailers the power and flexibility they need to deliver great online experiences. It’s an approach which delivers the most versatile mixture of physical and virtual IT infrastructure and services, enabling users to specify the optimum computing investment for their business needs.
One of its major advantages is that hybrid cloud can help level the playing field between retailers, both large and small, with affordable services that can be tailored to need and scaled up or down to meet online demand and align to cash flow and seasonal buying patterns.
Commercially, investing in a hybrid-cloud solution allows e-commerce businesses to reach customers no matter where they are, leaving them happy and more likely to return in the future – as long as the customer experience matches the website performance. It also allows the flexibility to change and adapt your services and solutions based on the requirements of your clients, meaning you can constantly manoeuvre to meet the latest trends and buying habits. However, building a solution means there are some important infrastructure, network and customer experience priorities to consider, in order to get the balance right:
Cloud Infrastructure priorities
- Scale – Hybrid cloud infrastructure is all about the ability to scale. To thrive as an e-commerce business, it is imperative that retail websites can handle spikes in traffic which often occur around busy shopping periods. However, this is a challenge many online store owners are unable to implement adequately, and, in the process, risk downtime when a surge in online customers arrives, with disastrous financial consequences.
- Reliability – The last thing customers want is to be at an online checkout and about to make a purchase, only to suddenly find that the website/app no longer works. They want to know that, even in peak retail seasons, website crashes won’t stop them from capitalising on the best promotions.
- Security – Most consumers will have seen big brand retailers hit with major security breaches and are now extremely sensitive about security and data privacy. Add this to the increasing levels of regulation designed to protect consumer rights and the financial system means retailers need to choose a hybrid cloud infrastructure solution that prioritises security, as well as a partner that can demonstrate a track record of excellence.
- Cost – Although in times of high revenue, this might not seem the biggest priority, aligning cost and revenue, and making sure costs only increase when revenues rise, is very important.
Customer experience priorities
- Speed – Modern retail websites must run properly, load quickly and allow customers to view products and browse without any performance lag. Long waits for pages to load will cause customers to abandon their carts to find websites that perform better. Their tolerance is measured in seconds, so there is no margin for error on site performance.
- Navigation – Visitors should be able to manoeuvre from product to product without any issues, and they should be able to locate what they are looking for easily. Customers need to have information readily accessible as this will keep them happy and encourage them to buy more products and services.
- Checkout process – This should be as simple and painless as possible. A checkout system that is overly complicated, requiring the customer to go through several steps just to place an order, will result in them abandoning the whole process in frustration or because they become suspicious that it isn’t secure. What’s more, unexpected shipping costs requiring customers to create accounts and various other factors can also bring an abrupt end to the sales process. Another often forgotten aspect of the checkout process is the integration of the payment provider. Good connectivity will mean checkout and payment processes will most probably run smoother, giving customers a better experience.
Technology partnerships: the make-or-break behind-the-scenes relationship
Given those foundational challenges, how can retailers keep their online presence as slick and effective as their in-store offering? Partnering with trusted, industry-leading hybrid cloud organisations can provide customisable solutions for each retailer’s specific needs. It’s no exaggeration to say that getting the choice of partner right can be make-or-break for online profitability.
The buying world has moved to an ‘always on’ mentality which means customers want and need to be able to shop or browse for what they need, when they need to and how they need and if you don’t align to this mentality you will not be offering customers a service matches their lifestyles.
To meet their evolving and challenging demands, retailers should aim for a comprehensive cloud solution that includes hybrid-ready product portfolios, top quality security solutions, core uptime and an extensive underlying network. In doing so, they can integrate e-commerce into their business model with the confidence that it will support and enhance their core offering, helping them meet whatever challenges the future throws at them.