Beyond the buzzwords – what ‘scaling to demand’ really means to retailers

The modern shopper comes to you however they please. They walk into a store, buy on a mobile app, or decide to purchase because of something they’ve seen on social media. Delivering flawless experiences across all channels while maintaining the existing estate and driving profitability is the balancing act facing retail CIOs.

Mobile-enabled applications, big data and social media continue to drive huge change in retail. Each driver relates to scalability – you can’t provide shoppers with a consistent mobile app service and you can’t gather, interrogate and act on data without being able to scale effectively. But spending time working with major retail brands lately, I’ve seen them face a barrage of buzzwords that don’t describe the realities of scaling to demand for their business.

I’d like to look beyond phrases like ‘omni-channel journey’ and ‘seamless enablement’ and think about what effective scalability in retail really involves.

Scalability = customer experience

Research by Akamai shows a 100-millisecond delay in load time can hurt conversion rates by up to 7%. But managing the peaks is more than making sure the website doesn’t slow-up on Boxing Day, it’s ensuring however a customer interacts with your brand – via your app, picking up the phone, in your stores, or via voice interface technologies – that each experience is instant and smooth. Scalability allows brands to live up to customers’ expectations everywhere, all the time.

Instant reactions to data

Structured and unstructured data arrives from diverse sources: a beacon on a phone app that tracks customers walking around the store, trend insights from Facebook and Google, what’s happening on catwalks, and the songs and shows people are streaming are just a few.

Retailers recognise data is invaluable. The ability to instantly capture, interrogate and do something about what your data is telling you, whether that’s to enhance your content, identify cross-selling opportunities or create a new product, is the difference between profit and loss. And being able to gather and act on data rapidly cannot happen without scalability.

Target, test, build

The number-one priority for retailers is targeting and personalisation.

Brands can create highly bespoke branding and advertising campaigns. They could sponsor an ad on a Twitter feed aimed at the Leeds students heading to a weekend festival, or use your search history to personalise the banner ads you see to remarket that jumper you looked at, but didn’t buy yet.

Niche marketing allows retailers to assess demand on a small scale and lay the foundations for scaling up when they run broader campaigns, say in print or on TV. Ahead of time, you can A/B test product popularity, testing the supply chain as you do: How long would it take to deliver 10,000 or 100,000 units if the demand was there?

Adapting to new data sources

Voice interfaces – such as devices like Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot – are putting new demands on data and the supply chain. Online retail experiences are also generating more data as they evolve, with shoppers trying on clothes in virtual dressing rooms, or getting product recommendations from conversations with chatbots.

We might not always know where data is coming from next, but we do know retailers need to be ready to adapt instantly, turning it into cost effective business intelligence without compromising customer privacy. Which brings me onto…

Scalability is about privacy

Retailers recognise no matter where or how their customers are interacting, it must feel harmonious. While customers won’t stand for clunky verification processes, they won’t expect their data security to be relaxed for the sake of a smooth experience.

Too often privacy is forgotten amongst the scalability buzz phrases. But scaling to demand isn’t just about managing the peaks, it’s about delivering processes that adapt as channels develop and holding data securely, wherever it is.

We’re working with household names to help them meet massive and unpredictable demand while doing just this. Take Vue Entertainment, which responds to spikes in online demand for tickets to blockbuster movies like the new Star Wars film, which generated 10,000 sales in the first 90 minutes of pre-sales. Their story is so relevant that it jumped out at me when writing this blog! if you want to have a watch yourself, take a look here.

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