This article originally appeared in Digital Commerce 360.
The most effective digital retail will happen in step with everyday life. Retailers must invest in tools and infrastructure needed to balance consumer expectations with regulatory responsibilities -- and focus on serving customers.
Overall, internet traffic has hit an all-time high, but retail sales have dropped at a historically high rate -- leaving several major U.S. retailers forced to file for bankruptcy. As many economies begin to reopen, some retailers are opening their physical store doors -- but at a much smaller capacity, and ecommerce will continue to be paramount. Optimized digital properties experiences can make or break a retailer's 2020 shopping season, now more than ever.
Tapping data to enhance holiday shopping experiences
According to data from Gartner, two-thirds of companies believe they compete mostly on customer experience. With decreased foot traffic, not only do businesses need to implement new health and safety standards, but they also must figure out how to deliver meaningful online experiences during this ultracompetitive time. One strategic way to do that is to tap into customer data from previous purchases and browsing history. If a consumer has only ever ordered size medium women's apparel, why not display that size and type at the top of the page for ease of shopping? Or when a consumer puts something in their basket but doesn't purchase it, retailers can proactively notify the consumer via email when the item has dropped in price -- only if the selected size is still available. It's no surprise that mobile shopping is on the rise. However, many consumers are still just browsing on their mobile devices, and they continue to make purchases on their PCs. If consumers add items to carts while using their phones, the items should be in the cart when they log on to their PCs, for ease of transaction.
How many times have you heard the expression "the internet wasn't built for that"? It's also true that mobile devices weren't built for online shopping or for making payments. Yet here we are, in a mobile world. If web properties have tons of images and videos, that content doesn't magically look the same on thousands of different device types in operation worldwide. But consumers expect that they will. That means retailers must proactively optimize those images and videos so holiday shoppers can quickly access them to make purchasing decisions. Think baby boomers, the second-largest generation in the United States. Boomers have spending power and are shopping online, but might not have the same eyesight as Gen Z -- so those images can't be tiny or unreadable on a cell phone.
Amid the pandemic, Marqeta has seen a tenfold increase in contactless payments made using apps like Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay, as well as online payments. There have also been increases in online delivery, much of which consumers initiate from mobile phones. That means it is more important than ever to protect consumers' PII while ensuring that apps are intuitive and quick. Gone are the days where consumers are okay with handing their phone to a sales clerk to help make the unoptimized app work.
Retailers can maximize the use of edge computing to offer some cool and unique experiences for their shoppers. For example, there's the checkout-less store. Customers download the app, use the app to enter the store, take whatever they need, and walk out. This translates to no long lines, no waiting, and -- perhaps most importantly, these days -- no contact with a cashier. The store's personnel are responsible for the restocking, ID checkers are responsible for the liquor aisle, and some answer customers' questions. This is an excellent example of prioritizing mobile to maximize efficiency.
How to successfully manage malicious actors
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the 10 biggest data breaches in the first half of 2020 exposed more than 3.2 million records. Even the savviest retailers have holes in their security technology, and in the past few months, with massive spikes in online shopping, those holes were revealed. The spikes in traffic were so unpredictable, how could retailers possibly have been prepared? Some put "security Band-Aids" in place to keep operations alive, but that can't be a long-term solution, particularly as the back-to-school shopping season is on us ... with Black Friday and Cyber Monday not that far behind. Online shopping is going to go through the roof during the holiday season, arguably like nothing the retail industry has ever experienced. As retailers increasingly shift to a digital environment, and mainly as COVID-19 accelerates online purchasing, it is more important than ever for retailers to invest adequately in cybersecurity safeguards.
Thankfully, today there are incredibly strict regulations in place to protect PII, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). In addition to doing what's right for consumers, there's another reason to follow the rules: Fines went into effect on July 1 for CCPA here in the United States. While retailers are implementing technology to protect their customers' PII, they should also reevaluate what data they are collecting and why. CIOs should be talking to CMOs about the once-enviable long forms on web properties to understand better why they are collecting so much data. The more that's collected, the more that's at risk. Some simple changes can make a difference.
Loyalty programs are the key to customer retention
In such a competitive marketplace, loyalty programs really can help retailers acquire and retain customers. There are a few ways retailers can focus on getting the most out of their programs. First, make it easy to sign up with just an email address and a password. Other information can be gathered during the initial checkout process and throughout the lifetime of the relationship. That's right, relationship. Make it one. Retailers that focus on consistent communication and education form relationships with their customers, and it pays off. Keep the communication and education short and sweet, personalized and engaging, with concise emails and brief videos (less than 3 minutes). Particularly during the pandemic, successful retailers have communicated well about shipping delays, cleaning measures, and more. Consumers want to be in the know and they want to feel safe.
Perhaps the most critical aspect of loyalty programs is rewards. Everyone likes a discount or to get something for free -- everyone! Offer meaningful rewards, maybe points on each purchase that lead to future discounts, free trial-size offers (think Sephora), and sometimes merely free shipping both ways. And don't make consumers type in some crazy code -- apply the points or discount automatically.
Of course, any loyalty program has to incorporate personalization, great experiences on mobile devices, and secure transactions. In today's retail climate, profitability hinges on strong customer relationships, and premium loyalty programs are simply the best tools for bolstering your brand's relationships with your top customers.
The separation between in-person and online shopping no longer exists, so the most effective digital retail will happen in step with everyday life. Ultimately, retailers must invest in the tools and infrastructure needed to balance consumer expectations with their regulatory and responsibility commitments to avoid any unnecessary risk -- and focus on serving their customers.
Akamai provides content delivery network services to 305 of the 1,000 leading online retailers in North America, as ranked in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000 Report.