It’s hard to argue with the numbers. Online sales hit record levels this holiday season, as consumers flocked to the Web and capitalized on big bargains. With such positive results, it would appear retailers were fully prepared – building eCommerce strategies capable of managing increased demand. But while the figures are strong, do they tell the entire story?

The National Retail Federation estimates online shopping finally outstripped brick-and-mortar sales during Black Friday weekend. Consumers spent nearly $4.5 billion online during this time, a 14 percent increase over last year. Financial giant MasterCard notes total retail sales rose nearly 8 percent during Black Friday and Christmas Eve, with eCommerce purchases up 20 percent. But building on this success won’t be easy.

As retailers enter 2016, it’s critical to take stock of current eCommerce strategies and solutions – pinpointing what worked, alongside those issues still requiring attention. This checklist exercise – often carried out in conjunction with a partner with adequate expertise – helps assess the application, platform and infrastructure layers and recommend opportunities to boost overall digital customer experience. This strategy also allows for better alignment of internal expertise and infrastructure resources – determining which components and processes to handle in-house versus outsourcing to an experienced service provider.

While each online site faces its own unique challenges, there are several essential areas to be addressed by any strong service provider:

 

  • Platform Reliability/Performance: There’s a direct correlation between Website performance and digital customer experience. In a recent survey, 84 percent of respondents claim to have stopped doing business with a brand following a poor customer experience. It’s also reported Web site visitors are willing to wait no more than two seconds before frustration sets in. Web sites experience a 50 percent abandonment rate when wait time reaches 10 seconds or more.

With this in mind, real-time availability of these sites is crucial.  As strategies evolve, look towards partners with tier-one managed hosting expertise and uptime SLAs – to ensure your sites stay up and running even during unexpected peak traffic times.

 

  • Security and Resiliency: Retail sites are the number one target for hackers, as countless reports document the theft of customer information. Most experts agree a comprehensive security and resiliency infrastructure is the foundation of eCommerce success. A first step is determining the “attack surface” via an end-to-end risk assessment. This includes consideration of market-critical compliance requirements – such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Backing it up is full recovery functionality, guaranteeing continuous operation of core infrastructure components in the event of a natural or human-caused disaster.

When embarking on a business-driven security strategy, consider the benefits of aligning with a managed service provider. A true partner is capable of incorporating each of these elements into a single, reliable, integrated and end-to-end services offering.

 

  • Big Data Analytics: Effective eCommerce strategies don’t just happen overnight – and certainly not without effective data analytics. More than 44 trillion gigabytes of data are expected to comprise the digital universe by 2020. Better understanding of such metrics as customer spending patterns and buying preferences makes it easier to shape future offerings, construct more precise sales strategies, and implement impactful marketing efforts. Service providers with data science expertise can integrate strategies and systems to extract actionable insights from big data, and help assemble an information-driven eCommerce infrastructure.
  • Omni-Channel Integration: Current eCommerce trends mandate retailers drive integration and consistency across multiple customer touch points, including online store-fronts, mobile, fulfillment and point-of-sale systems at brick-and-mortar locations. With mobile commerce now representing 30 percent of all digital sales, the power to integrate and utilize data across these multiple systems has never been more critical. Via managed services, companies can build an omni-channel integration strategy that allows for more insightful use of data analytics and customer targeting.
  • Next-Generation eCommerce: Retailers must never lose site of the ever-growing ecosystem of next-generation tools, applications, and infrastructure solutions. The most progressive companies gain competitive advantage by monitoring the emerging universe of technologies and trends – such as influencer marketing, social integration, security, and new data analytics tools – as well as communications vehicles like SMS and MMS. The true value of a managed service provider is reflected in an ability to introduce emerging tools that will help achieve the requirements of the business.

The calendar has changed and it’s time to prepare for the year ahead in eCommerce. The best strategies not only analyze past performance, but anticipate future requirements to capture evolving customer demands. Now is the time to build your eCommerce list – one that goes beyond the numbers. Let CenturyLink’s Digital Customer Experience and eCommerce experts get you pointed in the right direction!

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