Sanjay Radia, chief solutions architect at NETSCOUT
The last few years have seen the emergence of several macroeconomic factors that have hugely impacted the retail industry. The ongoing impact of supply chain disruptions, changes to international trade following Brexit, the war between Russia and Ukraine, and consumer inflation levels reaching record highs, have all affected the sector in various ways.
However, one event reigns supreme when assessing its influence on retailers – the Covid-19 pandemic. The emergence of the pandemic meant that shops were forced to close their physical stores, with social distancing measures and heightened concerns over viral transmission continuing to impact businesses in the ensuing couple of years. As such, consumers had to conduct most of their shopping online. This led to online sales rising dramatically as customers explored another path to purchasing goods and services. The ecommerce boom seen in the last couple of years has resulted in the sector experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly.
Impact of the ecommerce boom
The rise in online sales has provided a financial boost to the industry, with retailers being in a position to reduce overhead costs. Selling products via online marketplaces has removed the need for expensive retail premises and customer-facing staff, allowing retailers to invest in better marketing and customer experience on their ecommerce platforms.
However, this increase in online shopping has also led to a steady rise in network traffic, which in turn has affected websites’ performance due to packet loss and latency, as well as bottlenecks in throughput. What’s more, shipping nightmares have become far more commonplace, caused by a spike in order volumes – which is especially true during the holiday season – as well as in-transit issues such as transportation vehicles breaking down, high traffic, and accidents, all of which result in distribution and delivery delays.
With online shopping’s popularity having skyrocketed in recent years, this makes each customer interaction critical for retailers, who must be prepared to monitor network and application performance for longer periods of time.
Assuring peak performance of networks and applications
To fuel growth in the face of adverse conditions such as market unpredictability and supply chain disruption, and to capitalise on the ecommerce boom, retailers are under immense pressure to provide a seamless, personalised, and secure shopping experience for customers, irrespective of how they engage – whether it be in store, online, or a hybrid online-ordering/in-store pick-up model. Service must be consistent, reliable and efficient at all times, regardless of what’s happening in the world. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, a seamless and prompt experience was still expected.
For this to happen, retailers must maintain the quality performance of the applications that form the user’s experience when shopping online. Delivery of the online shopping experience is reliant upon IT networks and applications. Ensuring the security and performance of these networks and applications necessitates retailers having full visibility into underlying packets of information. This is where deep-packet inspection comes in. Deep-packet inspection involves analysing traffic traveling between computer networks in real time—for example, the IT network operated by a retailer —by looking at the various layers of information in the packets that traverse the network, enabling the different machines to communicate with one another. The technology is used to ensure the availability of key network-based services, including commercial applications such as retail websites, as well as in the critical cybersecurity tools retailers use to block cyberattacks, like firewalls and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) mitigation systems.
What’s more, retail organisations also require very specific software, especially for use by their customers and in-store associates, such as point-of-sale (PoS) or payment software, as well as for online sales and contact centre services. With these applications continuing to become more complex, there is a growing need to support new payment methods and provide hybrid shopping experiences. As such, retailers must find a way to maintain the performance of these vital services and networks in the shadow of regulatory compliance requirements. This can be achieved by implementing a solution which provides visibility into both retail and business applications throughout the network.
For retailers to assure peak network and application performance, they must install a solution which provides end-to-end visibility into their networks and mission-critical applications, as well as one which can support custom apps, web-based apps, and server-based apps. The solution should also ensure customers’ online shopping experience is at the quality users expect in today’s digital era. These functions are crucial for retail businesses when assessing existing technology and evaluating performance capabilities, assuring peak network and application performance for retailers.