Website, mobile app, social media, online marketplace, in store, at a pop-up or concession: the shopping options available to today’s consumer are plentiful, with the internet providing access to a retailer even after its store doors close. This provides convenience for the consumer, who is able to browse and buy when and where they want, while the retailer benefits from constant availability and visibility of its brand and messaging.
However, the diversity and multitude of consumer touchpoints, sales channels and back-end technology, as well as the physical locations of stores, warehouses and delivery centres mean that providing a seamless shopping experience is far from a straightforward task.
How? The cloud.
Out With The Old
New retailers launching to market with a pure-play e-commerce offering have the advantage of building a digital-first business from scratch, by adopting a new cloud IT system and constructing their business around it. Traditional retailers launching or re-launching into the digital space, on the other hand, face a significant challenge: legacy technology.
According to research by Accenture, the majority of retail business and IT executives anticipated the pace of technology change to increase at an unprecedented rate in the three years from 2016. Retailers must be ready to adapt, which means regularly updating technology to keep pace with the competition. Completely overhauling legacy systems is expensive, so any existing infrastructure must be cautiously integrated with the new. Initial investment in cloud technology may be considerable, but savings will soon be realised through low-cost upgrades and reduced manpower, real estate, and running costs.
Adopting a cloud platform can help any retailer remain agile and adaptable to changing consumer and business demands. Subscription pricing models for many cloud services allow retailers to pay for what they need, when they need it. As such, new services can be trialled and launched quickly and at a lower cost than if they were reliant on physical infrastructure for set-up and support.
For example, a retailer may want to launch a new website, app or pop-up store to tie in with a seasonal campaign; cloud technology will allow the brand to quickly scale up IT capacity and data storage, with little outlay in comparison with a traditional approach.
A unified cloud platform with CRM capabilities will allow employees and departments from all sectors of a retail business to access consumer and channel information at any time. This will help contribute to the much-needed integration not only between different online shopping channels, but also between online and offline locations. Consumer activity and data can be tracked and analysed across the entire retail business, helping to influence marketing strategies and deliver a more personalised shopping experience.
In times of peak demand – Black Friday, Christmas, and seasonal sales – cloud technology offers a low-cost way to increase computing capacity and monitor and adjust sales channels in response to fluctuating demand. This will help mitigate instances of retail sites crashing – especially problematic if this occurs during the checkout process – and help ensure a continuous, secure shopping experience.
The retail industry is a crowded space, with traditional retailers experimenting and launching digital services and experiences in order to keep pace and compete with digital-first ecommerce players. Legacy technology may pose a (pricey) problem, but disrupting traditional approaches by virtualising systems will deliver efficiencies in the long run, enhance the consumer experience, and support the growth of any retail business.