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Comment: Can your multichannel retail strategy support the summer sales season?

Comment: Can your multichannel retail strategy support the summer sales season?
Friday August 9 2013

The summer sales season is upon us and according to research just out from IMRG, UK e-commerce sales increased 20% in June, compared to a year ago, which is believed to have been prompted by the warm weather. By Alex Keith, UK eCommerce Sector Manager at Akamai Technologies

Some customers, of course, will continue to queue all night for the best bargains even whilst others are looking for deals online. But will the blurring of the physical and digital retail landscape affect your performance as a retailer and are you ready?  Over the last few years we’ve seen an increase in the number of touch points - mobile devices in particular - allowing customers to engage with brands and this has actually resulted in channel-blur. How many customers are now checking deals on the website even though they end up buying on the high-street? And how many of them will actually use their smartphone while in-store?

For retailers, one of the major multichannel issues is guaranteeing a coherent and high-quality shopping experience in every situation and every context; this is what Akamai calls ‘Situational Performance’. Multichannel shopping is particularly challenging in terms of performance: despite the variety of devices and connectivity solutions customers’ expectations stay the same, but a retailer’s challenges increase exponentially.

Last year, Walmart produced figures that demonstrated the impact of site speed on conversion rates. This showed that there was a sharp decline in conversion rates as the average site load time increases from 1 to 4 seconds, and that the overall average site load time is lower for the converted population (3.22 seconds) than the non-converted population (6.03 seconds. It also showed that for every 1 second of improvement there was a 2% increase in conversions and for every 100ms of improvement, incremental revenue grew by up to 1%.

What to do then in order to get the best out of the multichannel shopping trend and guarantee the best performance over a variety of platforms? Akamai recommends taking three major steps:

Measure the experience
The most important step to improving site performance is for retailers to begin measuring all end-user web experiences on an ongoing basis. Performance monitoring services are beginning to offer “real end-user monitoring” solutions that look at the actual response times end users are seeing, regardless of device or connectivity (Wi-Fi, 3G, LTE, GPRS, Edge, LAN). Real User Monitoring (RUM) provides insight into individual user experiences by monitoring web pages and collecting data from real end users who actually browse a retailer’s web pages. This allows data to be gathered, processed and analysed, so retailers can accurately evaluate user experiences in order to refine and improve what is on offer. Correlating this data to retailers’ key business metrics (e.g. conversion) helps identify improvement areas which may need additional investments as well as the drivers of success.

Build and apply intelligence
For each type of user device, given the particular conditions that surround a particular connection, providing “situational performance” or the ability to apply optimisations on a scenario-by-scenario basis becomes crucial. Gaining real-time intelligence about shoppers’ usage conditions - including information about device characteristics and real-time network conditions - enables retailers to make the right content-serving decisions.

Optimise the experience
Last generation cloud optimisation technologies are designed to provide retailers with opportunities to optimise each shopper’s experience based on the situational intelligence that they gather. These include capabilities that boost performance for web, web-based mobile and pure mobile applications. The three most important performance enhancements include adaptive image compression, device characterisation, and front-end optimisation, allowing retailers to specify content to be delivered based upon shoppers connection speed and device characteristics such as screen size, CPU, browser version, GPS on/off and JavaScript support. Thanks to this combination of factors, Akamai is able to seamlessly handle different scenarios, intelligently applying the most appropriate optimisation techniques for each shopper’s situation, without sacrificing the user experience.

Multichannel customers offer great engagement potential - IMRG research has indicated that mobile-commerce sales grew by 136% in June of this year, compared to 2012, and conversion rates via mobile devices have increased by 1.27% to 2.03% between June 2012 and June 2013, whilst spending via tablets now approaches that of desktop PCs - but retailers must be aware that customers expect high performance regardless of the device they are using. The good news is that we are now in a position to support and maximise this and deliver a quality multichannel experience for customers, regardless of the way in which they interact.

The impact of good web performance can make significant differences to business performance, as Gavin Cliffe, CTO at Ozsale confirms: “Akamai’s Aqua Ion solution has helped us to establish a site experience that is second to none. With Akamai we were able to improve performance for our Australian users by over 130% and as a result we’ve been able to generate more online revenue and reduce operational costs”.