By: Greg Ouillon, CTO, New Relic
The pandemic has changed the retail landscape as we know it. And it comes as no surprise that what has been most affected is the high street, with stores closing and shopping centres left entirely empty. As physical stores remained quiet and hampered by rolling lockdowns and nervous consumers, online and digital became necessary for almost every retailer. Following over a year of furlough for retail staff, businesses had to reinvent themselves, to reimagine and reflect as ecommerce or hybrid Click&Collect businesses.
Experian recently reported that online retail sales rose from 12% to 34% of total retail spend in the past year – hitting levels originally predicted for 2025. In fact, the number of registered digital and traditional retail businesses grew by 8% over the last five years, 7% of these occurred in the last year alone.
As the UK returns to business as normal, retailers now need to focus on optimising success, sustaining business growth and giving customers the experience, they now demand. But the question is, how do retailers take advantage of this surge and drive growth in a new omni-channel world as customers return to the high street?
We first need to take a step back and it begins with understanding the rise of digital retail.
Getting to grips with digital
The pandemic also gave a clear call to action to retailers, and propelled many to reinvent themselves for their survival . Technology and digital was a huge part of this. We saw retailers rush to the Cloud or SaaS to be able to scale and cope with pent-up online demand. They have since been looking at matching some of the pure-play e-commerce leaders by leveraging technology like APIs to shorten delivery times and enhance supply chains, and using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to propose better targeted product choices. Additionally, they have been expanding payment options, and also increasing the frequency and agility of campaigns and ‘Promo days’ to drive SEO, traffic and conversion. Some even pioneered to emulate the in-shop experience by implementing AR-based virtual try-ons, something the beauty sector has continued to roll out.
All of these technologies, when applied and implemented correctly, positively impact customer experience, providing the instant and trustable online journey that customers demand. However, with so much change to work out in such a short time frame, many retailers struggled to deliver on the fundamentals of this experience, facing significant challenges in ensuring that their systems were always on, reliable and meeting performance needs at scale.
In this instance, the last couple of months have seen plenty of high-profile outages within the IT and technology sector, with New Relic reporting 43% of IT teams are experiencing outages once a day or more, and nearly a quarter (21%) having multiple outages a day. This has further highlighted to businesses and retailers that securing real-time visibility of their entire technology stack is hugely important. The ability to detect, understand, troubleshoot and resolve technical issues as quickly as possible and before they end up meaning poor customer service, is the foundation to creating great customer experience and ultimately optimising for business success.
Still, alongside the high expectation for online performance, comes the challenge that every consumer’s online experience needs to be seamless and connected.
The key is to communicate
There are many components needed to really reap the rewards of successful ecommerce. Retailers need to have a combination of great developer and e-commerce skills, infrastructure, cloud, and the ability to scale and adapt quickly as consumer traffic changes. But, in this new world of digital and omni-channel, all teams services the customer need to be far more connected and share an integrated view and real-time insights into how the consumer is using their site and where he stands in his journey. Whether it’s the e-Commerce teams, IT and software development, marketing, supply chain & logistics, customer Service or finance, 3rd party service partners.
Therefore, a thorough understanding of how all customer touchpoints operate digitally and relate to each other is essential. Ideally, this implies that collecting Telemetry data and monitoring needs to happen across the board, throughout customer journeys and end-to-end across all touchpoints and systems. Once they have this telemetry and visualize it as Data-driven insight, retailers can really see what campaigns or pathways are most effective, understand what causes friction or business uptake, and at which points customers require support and information in real-time.
BT Shop is just one example. The consumer-facing retail division of BT, realised it had a need to better integrate visibility across all teams and departments. To improve its customer experience, everyone must have insight into how the consumer is using your site. Departments must then use this insight to break through siloes, and collaborate across teams to optimise customer experience, and crucially drive revenue. By working with New Relic, BT was able to connect both the developer and the business teams through its observability platform. Additionally, the New Relic platform allowed both e-commerce and marketing teams to track key customer experience metrics. Such as, time on site or average response time, or how a campaign performs with insight into traffic sources and revenue. After implementing New Relic’s platform and addressing issues across teams, BT Shop had a greater overview of customer journeys and also became far more data aware. The retailer then understood what was performing well and at what level, enabling the team to upsell services and improve. experience.
Sustaining results collectively
There is no denying that retail has evolved quickly to meet new customer demands. And there is now no way back. eCommerce has expended across the board and we’re also seeing digital expanding physically into high-street shops, combining the best of both worlds in a blended consumer experience. What was differentiation is now table stakes.
Now more than ever, it is essential for retailers and brands today to nail online, and failure is looming if teams care about different parts of the business, rather than the collective whole. Having teams work closely together, with a unified approach to monitoring, analysing and understanding their performance end-to-end will achieve overall business goals. It is crucial.
Observability for retail success
Once teams, from developers to sales, can improve the ways they work, by collaborating on data-driven insights, increasing their velocity and agility, and work on converting real time data into customer journey improvements, success invariably comes. In essence, this means observability. Put simply, when applied correctly, observability provides the unified view of all the digital retail technology and business stack, from the underlying IT and cloud infrastructure to the middleware and software, to the user experience and the business. For retailers, this means that measuring business and technology performance, and tying it to their software architectures, digital innovation and new technologies becomes more accessible and easier. In turn, customers can genuinely see and feel the benefit. This creates a virtuous circle that leads to high customer satisfaction, increased business conversion and competitive differentiation. More brands are coming to this realization that observability is a critical ingredient of their digital success., and there is no doubt that it will support the continued growth of digital and ecommerce now, and into the future .