By Adam Smith, Enterprise Account Executive at Commvault
The pandemic and resulting lockdowns led to the rapid acceleration of online shopping, with as many as 87% of UK households making online purchases during 2020 – the highest online purchase penetration rate in over ten years.
Many nimble online retailers – those without a high-street presence – have thrived during the pandemic, benefiting from the increased amount of time people had to shop at home, discover independent suppliers, and uncover boutique offerings. But more prominent, established high street brands have struggled as their bricks and mortar client base remained under lockdown. Top Shop, Debenhams, DW Sports, Harveys, Bon Marche, Bensons Beds, and Edinburgh Woollen Mill are just a few of the country’s best-known high street brands that went into administration in 2020.
Although British retail is starting to show signs of recovery, the last 18 months have created a paradigm shift and forced all retailers to re-examine their ecommerce offerings – and the IT infrastructure and data management technology that supports them. Established retail brands in particular face a raft of tech and data-related challenges alongside the financial pressures of maintaining a physical presence on the high street. They often have disparate IT platforms, applications, and data silos – making it more time-consuming and expensive to run successful and profitable ecommerce operations.
Reaching for the clouds
With tighter margins and tougher competition, retailers cannot afford to ignore high IT overheads. But they need IT and data management solutions to successfully capture, store and analyse customer data. Indeed, IT and data management are key to delivering the hassle-free and personalised ecommerce experience that customers have come to expect. Perhaps that’s why many retailers believe that moving to a cloud-based infrastructure or adopting a hybrid approach – where some IT systems migrate to the cloud and others remain in on-premises environments – could be the solution.
Making a full or partial move to the cloud offers retailers a cost-effective way to create a single, scalable IT platform with fewer of the upfront hardware and management costs associated with on-premises hardware. Adopting a full or hybrid cloud infrastructure also gives retailers a cost-effective way to access the kind of processing power needed to cope with peak time transactions and same-day deliveries (something to keep in mind as we start the countdown to Black Friday 2021). Fast, efficient, and scalable processing power also gives retailers the information and intelligence they need to tailor each shopper’s experience.
Keeping customers onside
More than ever, if retailers can’t manage and analyse customer data, they won’t understand current customer behaviour or understand how it may change in the future. The pandemic and accompanying take-up of online retail has shown once and for all that, yes, customers want to buy products and services, but, more than that, they want the brand to engage with them.
They want to feel part of the brand story and belong to a community of like-minded people with the same values. To do this successfully, online retailers need to manage their data, analyse it, and make it work for them. This means using data to create targeted offerings, stimulate interaction with their brand and shopper community, and ultimately drive customer loyalty. Only then will customers feel that they have the one-to-one brand relationship and emotional connection that they crave.
Ransomware on the rise
But retailers aren’t the only ones who place a high value on customer data. Cybercriminals are desperate to get their hands on it too. Data held by retailers contains customer phone numbers, email addresses, credit cards, addresses, and all kinds of other personal information that cybercriminals can exploit. That’s why retail sector ransomware attacks have rocketed, with some reports suggesting increases of over 1,000% during the pandemic. Although retail is not the hardest hit sector, the same report indicates that, last year alone, cyberattacks cost retailers and their associated supply chain partners as much as £138bn globally.
Retailers also need to consider the speed at which they could recover data in the event of a disaster. Thankfully, the UK doesn’t have the extreme weather or earthquakes experienced in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, retailers – even those without a high street presence – won’t want to get caught out should a natural disaster or a severe storm hit. Retailers in Western Germany, for example, wouldn’t have been expecting the catastrophic flooding that we all witnessed this summer. With digital data now the lifeblood of every retailer – whether bricks and mortar or with 100% online operations – they must have plans in place to allow fast data recovery and a speedy return to regular business, even in the face of the most unlikely disasters.
Therefore, it’s vital that as retailers scale up their ecommerce operations, the IT infrastructure and data management solutions that they choose, whether cloud, hybrid, or on-premises, must be able to store, analyse, protect, and recover customer information. It must also offer the capability to recover data as soon as possible should an attack slip through the defences.
The data silos that we talked about earlier are not just bad from an information management perspective; they can be a nightmare from an IT security one too. That’s because data silos make it harder to pinpoint where the information resides, shield it from cybercriminals and enable fast recovery should the worst happen. For these reasons, retailers must address what we call the business integrity gap. This means removing data sprawl and data silos from their IT infrastructure if they are to succeed with their long-term ecommerce plans and achieve their goals.
Though the sector still has a way to go before returning to a semblance of normal, retailers will come through the other side of the pandemic in a stronger position if they focus now on addressing their data management needs, and putting customer experience front and centre.