COVID-19 and the UK’s series of ensuing lockdowns brought about a massive spike in online shopping. Indeed, almost nine of ten UK households made an online purchase last year – the highest percentage in more than a decade.
Agile online retailers – most often those without a bricks and mortar presence – did exceptionally well, profiting from the unprecedented amount of time we all had to shop from home. With those extra hours came time to explore local suppliers, independent retailers, and niche offerings that might have otherwise gone under the radar.
But more established and well-known high street brands struggled in this new reality as they failed to deliver and communicate a coherent ecommerce strategy, and engage with their regular customers online. Names like Debenhams, Bensons for Beds, Topshop, DW Sports, Harveys, and Bon Marche are just a few of the casualties that have left our high street with some very noticeable gaps.
Although the sector is starting to show signs of recovery, the last year and a half have created an irreversible shift, forcing a re-examination of ecommerce strategies amongst all our retailers. At the heart of this process is a need to revisit IT infrastructure and data management technology — both of which are key to delivering a successful ecommerce offering.
The sky’s the limit with cloud
Our most famous high-street retailers face unique data, security, and tech-related challenges alongside the financial pressures of maintaining their stores. They often have multiple data silos, disparate applications, and a jumble of IT platforms. All this makes it much more expensive and far more time consuming to deliver a profitable ecommerce strategy.
But tougher competition and tighter margins mean that retailers can’t ignore high IT overheads, and they need to ensure that IT makes a meaningful contribution to the bottom line. One way to do this is to use IT and data management solutions to capture, store and analyse customer data. And many retailers argue that this is best achieved by moving to a cloud-based environment; some opt for a 100% cloud migration and others choose a hybrid approach with a mix of on-premises and cloud infrastructure components.
Committing to either a partial or complete transition to the cloud promises retailers a relatively low-cost way to create a centralised, scalable IT platform with significantly less upfront hardware and management costs than are typically found in an on-premises environment. It also offers a cost-effective way to access the processing power levels required to deal with peak time transactions and fulfilment within tight hyper-local delivery windows. In addition, this scalable, rapid and efficient processing power also provides retailers with the data they need to tailor every customer’s shopping experience.
Making customer data work for you (and not for cybercriminals)
Today, if retailers can’t analyse customer data and manage it correctly, they won’t get to grips with current consumer trends or understand how shopping habits may change in the years ahead. So, it’s not a stretch to say that COVID — and the resulting take-up of online retail — has finally confirmed what many retailers have anecdotally known for some time: customers want to buy products and services, but they want the brand to engage with them too, and make them feel special.
It’s also shown that customers want their brands to forge communities so they can interact online with a network of like-minded people with the same aesthetic values, social consciences, and lifestyle aspirations. Only then will customers feel they’ve established the one-to-one brand relationship and emotional connection that they crave, and only then will they commit to a purchase.
Unfortunately, cybercriminals — like retailers — understand the value and insight that can be gleaned from customer data. And they’ll stop at nothing to get hold of it. Retailers’ data includes customer email addresses, phone numbers, credit cards, and lots more personal information that cybercriminals could exploit. For that reason, retail sector ransomware attacks have gone through the roof. Some sources estimate ransomware attacks have increased in excess of 1,000% throughout the pandemic. We’ve also seen figures that estimate these attacks have cost retailers and their associated supply chain partners as much as £138bn in the last year.
Preparing for worst case scenarios
Retailers should also consider (and test) how long it would take to recover data if a disaster should strike. Thankfully, we don’t have extreme weather or high magnitude earthquakes in the UK. But retailers – even those without bricks and mortar stores – won’t want to get caught out should a severe storm or a natural disaster strike. With digital data now the lifeblood of every retailer, they must have plans in place to enable a rapid return to business and speedy data recovery, even when the most unlikely of disasters strike.
Although the sector still has a way to go before returning to something approaching normal, retailers ultimately will come through the other side of the pandemic much stronger. But first they’ll have to deal with something we call the business integrity gap. This means focusing right now on how to address their data management needs and removing data silos and data sprawl from their IT infrastructure. Only then can they make customer experience front and centre of their ecommerce growth strategy and achieve the success to which they aspire.
By Adam Smith, Enterprise Account Executive at Commvault