According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics online sales have continued to increase, indicating a change in consumer habits from traditional in-store shopping behaviour. This is supported by data published in its most recent report of retail sales, which shows that in November 2017, average weekly online spending increased by 10.2% compared with the same period in 2016. Additionally, the amount spent (value) online accounted for 17% of all retail spending, compared with 16.1% in the same period the previous year. 

So, as we move further into 2018, with digital commerce evolving into a series of transactions that rely increasingly on technology to move goods; which are the top technologies and services that e-commerce CTOs should be wishing for? Here are some of the essentials to ensure that online retail businesses are firmly propelled into the year, ready to embrace the connected consumer and receive more than just a slice of the online shopping pie.

1. Edge Computing

By enabling data gathering and analytics to occur at the source – for example processing it within a local switch or router connected to IoT sensors and connected devices, rather than sending data back to the cloud or a remote data centre – edge computing can bring increased safety and speed, and decreased costs.

It therefore has the potential to change how enterprise solutions are delivered by bringing demanding applications closer to where users are within a distributed cloud model. The result is a complete hybrid approach to cloud computing, with the large, central data centres storing vast amounts of information, and local data centres delivering super-fast connectivity to local customers.

From an online retail perspective, the benefit lies in the speed of service, which is key for customer engagement and retention. As consumer expectations for speed and convenience increase, edge computing can help eCommerce businesses keep pace with demand.

2. Cloud-Based Technologies

According to a recent survey undertaken by specialist retail consultants Martec International, the retail industry in the UK and Ireland has experienced significant growth in both trust and adoption of cloud-based technologies, citing the lowered risk of loss of sales or inability to trade, and potential loss of customers, as key reasons. Up to 94% of respondents confirmed that they were very comfortable to use cloud-based systems for business-critical applications, with 77% already outsourcing at least one.

This affirms that the number of retail organisations favouring outsourced technologies over internal management of critical business applications is increasing, also driven by the cost implications of investing in owned infrastructure to manage peak periods.

It’s clear that there is a commercial balance to be found between using a multi-tenant, private or hybrid cloud, and it can be a daunting task deciding which route to follow. However, a best-of-breed cloud services provider can advise on the best approach and help customers exploit this brave new world of cloud computing by helping to shape and drive new revenue opportunities.

3. Continued Evolution Of Omnichannel

In the age of tech, customers are empowered by the internet and smart devices to the extent that, when it comes to online shopping from desktop to mobile to call centre, the expectation is all about convenience and fluidity.

Overcoming and leveraging the challenges and opportunities of connected commerce means it’s critical for businesses to have a two-prong approach – provide a seamless front-end customer experience by also implementing fully integrated back-end technologies.

Take inventory for example. It’s the lifeline of any retail business, and how it’s managed can make or break an organisation. Using inventory management applications that are integrated and cloud-based can help a business to easily and accurately track stock across multiple sales channels. The objective that CTOs need to aim for is a command centre that is centralised and completely connected in order to proactively manage, streamline and analyse all aspects of retail operations. The added advantage to this is that all the data is collected and concentrated in a central place, therefore making it easier to analyse and understand consumer behaviour in relation to the organisation’s own functioning processes.

Looking to the future this integration through IoT and the resulting connected commerce will most certainly start to blur the lines between online and offline experiences. In this regard Australia-based Westfield Corporation is already leading the way through the development of OneMarket, a retail technology network that, according to an interview with OneMarket CEO and Westfield Corp. board member Don Kingsborough published on PSFK, unites retailers, brands, venues and partners to facilitate collaboration, encourage data sharing and implement new technologies like natural voice processing, AI and AR at scale.

It’s a great example of how a retailer can expand the channels through which it sells, while providing a connected commerce customer experience via all the sales channels.

4. Security

Of users: The provision of a flexible, seamless omnichannel customer experience is a priority for most e-commerce businesses, but the converse is that far more emphasis needs to be placed on protecting consumers who use mobile devices and web apps as part of their shopping experience.

Mobile devices and the web apps that are installed on them are major targets for malicious attacks and, considering that we all do a significant amount of activity on our devices, this is a major concern. Arxan’s 5th Annual State of Application Security Report revealed a disparity between mobile app security perception and the actual reality, with up to 90% of the 126 popular mobile health and finance apps analysed containing two critical security vulnerabilities. This despite 84% of mobile app users and mobile app executives believing that that their mobile health and finance apps are properly secure.

The report’s findings bring to light the security challenges that continually affect the entire market place, not only eCommerce businesses, and highlights the importance of constant monitoring, patching and updating across all the user channels.

Of data: The importance of data protection across all business sectors is more pronounced than ever before, and remains at the forefront of the minds of business leaders with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on 25th May this year.

While it is possible for CTOs working in eCommerce to implement the necessary systems internally to store and protect data properly and legally, it can take up a lot of time and resource. Many online retail businesses will opt to outsource their GDPR compliance to a reputable managed service provider (MSP) who will take the necessary steps to ensure compliance from a technical perspective and have the expertise and capabilities to store, protect and create processes to manage even the most sensitive data.

The upside? CTOs who elect to outsource their company’s data protection needs to a MSP with data centre facilities that have the correct certifications and accreditations services for example, are spared the headache of having to constantly worry about meeting security and compliance requirements. Instead their expertise can be more focused in helping to achieve their organisation’s core business goals.

5. Augmented Reality

From a technology perspective, augmented reality (AR) is essentially all about processing and delivering a lot of complex data quickly so as to deliver an immersive experience in real time. It therefore goes without saying that bandwidth and processing power is key. Some MSPs provide the kind of network that can offer the high performance connectivity required to deliver these increasingly interactive and immersive experiences both in-store and online, as well as provide storage and processing power in their data centres for connecting into public cloud storage.

Leverage the best of these and other relevant modern technologies, and eCommerce CTOs will be well on the way to automating, scaling and delivering the kind of connected, commerce experience that today’s consumers are beginning to expect and demand as the norm. Combine this with the right marketing strategy and activity, and the slice of pie just got bigger.