Why e-commerce will be more important to retail than ever in a post-pandemic world

Throughout the past year, national lockdowns have had a huge impact on the high street as we know it. Many well-known names, including Debenhams, Topshop and Miss Selfridge, have now closed their doors for good. However, despite the lockdown restrictions that have impacted the high street stores of many retail brands so badly, those that provide e-commerce saw a surge in demand.

Deloitte’s Global Consumer Tracker refers to the acceleration towards online shopping; the first half of 2020 saw five years of growth in online market share in a matter of weeks. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics reported that online consumer spending accounted for 30.7% of all retail sales in April 2020 further increasing to 34.7% in March 2021. These figures indicate that, even when bricks-and-mortar stores were given the go ahead to reopen following the first lockdown, post-pandemic the high demand for e-commerce has continued.

While there is without a doubt a place for the high street, where people can connect and spend their disposable income, no one knows when the pandemic will end and sustained pressure on high street retail is likely. To survive post-pandemic, an effective digital presence will be essential to deliver an effective e-commerce shopping experience. This will rely on infrastructure that provides speed, reliability and security.

Find the balance

The first consideration is to ensure 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 is an approach which delivers the most versatile mixture of physical and virtual IT infrastructure and services, enabling retailers to specify the optimum computing investment for their business needs.

One of its major advantages is that a hybrid cloud can help level the playing field between large and small retailers.  It provides affordable services that can be tailored to need and scaled up or down to meet online demand, align to cash flow and cater for 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 retailers the flexibility to change and adapt services based on the requirements of their customers.  For retailers, this means constantly manoeuvring ahead of the latest trends and buying habits.

However, building the right solution means there are some important infrastructure, network and customer experience priorities to consider.

Four cloud infrastructure priorities to consider

  1. 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. When a surge in online customers occurs, they risk website downtime, which ultimately can result in loss of revenue and a poor customer experience.
  2. Reliability – The last thing customers want is to be at 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Cost – This might not seem the biggest priority in times of high revenue. However, it is very important for retailers to align cost and revenue, and to make sure costs only increase when revenues rise.

e-commerce post pandemicWhat does the customer need?

  1. 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.
  2. Navigation – Visitors should be able to switch 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.
  3. 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, risks them abandoning the whole process in frustration or because they become suspicious that it isn’t secure. What is 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 generally means checkout and payment processes run smoother, giving customers a better experience.

The relationship between technology and retailers

So, how can retailers ensure that their online offering is as effective as the in-store experience?

By partnering with trusted, industry-leading hybrid cloud organisations, retailers are able to access customisable solutions which suit their specific business needs. Now that customers expect to be able to shop for what they need in the manner that best suits them, retailers must offer customers a service that matches their lifestyle. In order to meet consumers’ evolving demands, retailers should aim for a cloud solution that includes hybrid-ready product portfolios, top quality security solutions, core uptime and an extensive underlying network.

If retailers achieve this, they can make sure that e-commerce is fully integrated into their business post-pandemic. This will enable them to deliver a positive, efficient experience to online customers and ensure readiness to overcome any future challenges that may arise post-pandemic.

Terry Storrar, MD, Leaseweb UK