- E-commerce should be at the heart of modern retail solutions
- Optimisation and monitoring tools are critical for modern websites hosted in multiple locations
The importance of e-commerce to modern businesses is a ‘no brainer’. Internet sales in the UK, for instance, account for around 9% of all retail sales (excluding fuel), and the value of all Internet transactions was GBP 489 million per week during April 2012, according to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) – values that will be much higher at peak points such as Christmas. The British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) report for August 2012 notes that year-on-year growth of Internet sales in the UK slowed to its lowest point since monitoring began in 2008. However, the value of online sales still rose by 4.8% during August, or 12 times the rate of growth for in-store sales.
These figures underline why many UK telcos will focus on e-commerce and Web site performance during the remainder of 2012 and into 2013. BT is investing in its BT Connect range of services, whilst Level 3 UK has announced that its new vertical sales focus will include e-commerce. Level 3’s focus on e-commerce is particularly interesting as the operator has stated that, unlike BT, it will not provide a full retail solution. This is understandable as managing large numbers of low-grade access services for a customer (possibly hundreds or even thousands) is not every provider’s ‘cup of tea’. Furthermore, the ONS findings underline that 60% of online retail sales are with companies that do not have a high-street presence (e.g., Amazon, eBay etc.).
The conclusions to draw from this are: firstly, that modern retail solutions should start by looking at the Web – a starting place that shares many core values with in-store retail ICT solutions (stock control etc.). Stock control is not just for preventing loss, but also for preventing customer disappointment. Emails telling customers ‘sorry we are no longer able to fulfil your order’ are best avoided, and incorrect stock information in ‘click and collect’ sales is a sure way to disappoint customers. But even more fundamental is Web site performance. If a Web site is down then people will go elsewhere, while various studies have shown that customers will wait between three and ten seconds for a page to load, before deserting it for another. Waiting for a Web site to load does not just mean the home page, but also the time taken for the various stages of the buying process to complete (e.g., adding to basket, choosing delivery methods, completing the sale etc.). A large part of the problem for e-retailers is that these different processes are often provided by multiple providers in multiple locations. Thus, e-retailers need providers who will make their website perform quickly and reliably, and offers monitoring tools (such as BT’s solution based on Compuware’s Gomez technology) to allow e-retailers to see where a fault is occurring (e.g., processing debit/credit card transactions) as quickly as possible. However, e-retailers should be aware that these services come at a cost. Balancing an increased ICT bill against retaining customers is a problem that is likely to grow and traders should seek to negotiate with their providers as much as possible.