eCommerce revenues keep climbing, but the pressure to reach sales targets is never more keenly felt than in the last two months of the year. To put the changing online retail landscape in context, retailers ranked in the Internet Retailer Europe 500 grew web sales to €145.01bn (£124.58bn) last year, up by 16.8% from €124.16bn (£106.67bn) in 2014. That rate outpaced overall retail sales growth in Europe, and the same report stated 296 million consumers across the region regularly shop online and use eCommerce services.
The opportunity to see even further growth at the end of 2016 is already clear. However, if retailers are going to capitalise on the opportunity, they must ensure every customer gets a responsive and flawless online experience, regardless of how much traffic is hitting their website or mobile app.
Mobile keeps surging forwards
The mobile experience is key - many shoppers start their shopping voyage on a mobile device. In 2016, smartphones and tablets have been responsible for 51% percent of online sales across EMEA, according to IMRG and Capgemini. For this reason, retailers must understand how they can improve the online experience taking place, if they are to increase revenues and margins. For example, using responsive web design, which plays a huge role in removing pain and complexity for development teams, as well as improving the consumer experience. This is because pages are dynamically built to be presented to the user quickly and in the best aesthetic light, based on their connection speed, device, OS, browser and form factor. It's all about giving shoppers the best possible experience on any device, anywhere.
But even the mobile experience is moving on - now a shopping experience should be continuous. That is, the ability to go from the physical world to online in a seamless way, and when online, to jump from one device to another without glitches or breaking the buying process.
The very real and immediate challenge facing every retailer is how they will predict, and manage the peak traffic spikes that are about to hit over the holiday season. Historical data can help identify trends, but as we have seen, online sales are growing every year. If your marketing and purchasing teams hit on the perfect promotion, or a struggling competitor website brings shoppers to you, this is great news, but are you prepared for those opportunities and can you fulfil shopper expectations under heavy loads?
Don't throw hard earned sales away
Every visitor is a sales opportunity, but failing to get peak planning right will mean a poor user experience, and lost sales. Our own observations have shown that consumers give a web page just two seconds to load, before their frustration leads to abandonment. It's critical to examine every opportunity for optimisation, otherwise you have wasted every moment and pound of investment that got the customer to your site in the first place, as well as taking a hit on your profits.
Images, for example, are at the centre of a great user experience as well as the performance and complexity challenges. It's important to use an image management solution that improves the customer experience with high quality images that are lightweight and fast. But it must also address the challenges: reducing the cost and complexity of preparing, managing and delivering those images, each tailored for any given device and connection speed.
Beauty is only skin deep
More broadly, every retailer should have an elastic traffic management strategy, where resource can be instantly, and dynamically spun up or down to meet traffic demands. Features such as Shopper Prioritisation and checkout management can also be essential tools to reduce abandonment, increase shopper satisfaction and ultimately revenues. Giving a great experience is not just about brute force processing power or a beautiful website - IT departments should have a 'peak playbook' as well as adequate backup plans, and pre-season testing regimes that run across the year.
Finally, everything we've just covered is irrelevant, if you are not taking the long shadow cast by security seriously. No matter how fast a site performs, or how great the mobile experience is, they are not worth anything if you are taken down by a DDoS attack, a data breach occurs, or your competitor is scraping your products' prices and stock. This year Akamai has defended the largest DDoS attacks it has ever recorded at over 623Gbps. Retail remains one of the top industries to be attacked - and attacks of this size mean an on-premise or data centre solution simply is no longer enough.
Opportunity and challenge
2016 looks set to be the strongest online retail year ever, particularly in Europe. Whilst the technical challenges for retailers are many, the opportunity is huge. In closing, it's important to note that all the challenges are surmountable and preparation is the key to reaping the rewards and exciting customers.