Raising The Stakes In The Retail Game

I am not the world’s greatest poker player. However, it is hard to avoid the surge of poker into popular culture. Poker tournaments are now on ESPN. Poker sites dot the Internet. Even the latest incarnation of James Bond switched from Baccarat to poker at the gaming tables.

Even though I am not an expert on the game, I understand some of the strategies involved in poker because they are common to other endeavors. One of the conventions of poker is the idea of “table stakes.” In a table stakes game, you can only play with the money you have on the table at any given time. You can’t go to your wallet to raise the stakes at the last second of a hand. The rule attempts to keep the playing field level between richer and poorer players.

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It also means that players need to put some strategy into how many resources they are bringing to the table right at the start of play. And in that strategy, I think there are some lessons for retailers building IT strategies. Every consumer click is becoming a hand of poker played by retailers competing for eyeballs, consideration and purchase decisions. It is a table stakes game. If your infrastructure lacks agility in that moment, you can’t go buy, qualify and install more hardware or tune your applications before that consumer moves on.

Evolve or Die

It was not that long ago that conventional wisdom held that brick and mortar stores would go out of business, sinking under the weight of their physical presence versus nimbler low-cost eCommerce companies. Today, we know things evolved differently. Brick and mortar stores are fighting back and the playing field is quickly leveling as IT once again is changing the way retailers build competitive advantage.

Retail IT is now geared toward enhancing the complete brand experience everywhere: online, offline, social media, after sale etc. IT staff has a tremendous opportunity to drive business strategy. Yet, there are still table stakes in this new game and they are rising.

CenturyLink recently asked Forrester Research to investigate IT’s impact on consumer behavior and business outcomes as it relates to eCommerce sites. I think this is a critical piece of data from that research:

“Just as positive shopping experiences help to retain customers, poor web performance pushes customers away. This is especially difficult for always-on mobile customers when networks, browsers, and devices are fragmented and unpredictable. One-third of US online consumers (33%) give up their online activity entirely if they encounter problems accessing the site from their mobile browser. Seventeen percent of respondents will navigate to a different website or a competitor’s website.”

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I do this all the time and I’m sure you do too. A page doesn’t load quickly enough (a metric that might vary between users, but is still measured in seconds for all of us) and we move on. The Forrester data, however, shows the scope of the problem and as we all press to deliver ever-richer content to consumers, this problem gets bigger quickly.

In a traditional IT environment, every consumer search is a table stakes game. Whatever capacity you have installed is all you have to drive the consumer experience. The table stakes nature of the retail game is clearest at times of peak demand such as the Christmas season, other holidays and during campaigns by major brands. If your IT infrastructure can’t scale to meet the demand, you are losing consumers to other retailers.

Dealing a Better Hand

Lagging web and mobile app performance is a huge concern for retailers and the Forrester data amplifies the urgency. More than half (58%) of decision-makers told Forrester that sales are taking a moderate to high impact from this phenomenon. They are also concerned that their expenses are rising during these peak times as they divert technical and customer service personnel to address these problems. As more shopping is done over the web and through mobile devices, they are absorbing brand damage when these problems become systemic.

This Forrester data does not directly address the other retail imperative – innovation – but provisioning new ideas is difficult if the current systems are lacking. Retailers are working to capture the omni-channel shopper and create seamless experiences on any platform and in the store. IT infrastructure is at the core of that strategy. Demands on IT also include business intelligence, push marketing and the personalization of content and messages to individual consumer needs. IT staff are stretched to bring the right mix of infrastructure to the table.

Security is also an arms race in the retail space. Headlines regularly remind us of this and the brand impact of a security breach can be devastating. James Bond has his trusty Walther PPK under his tuxedo. What’s your protection? Retailers of all sizes need a security strategy that is world class and building that infrastructure and expertise on your own is a daunting prospect today.

CenturyLink retail customers are increasingly raising their game with Hybrid IT architectures. They can scale compute, storage, network circuits and other needs withCenturyLink infrastructure. That helps them meet peak demand. It also allows them to target their own internal efforts toward innovation around the consumer experience, whether that’s application development, business intelligence or unique services such as loyalty programs. Together, with CenturyLink security services, consulting and our partner ecosystem we are making transactions more secure than any one company could on their own.

By outsourcing certain functions and infrastructure needs to CenturyLink, our customers are coming to the table with more resources than they had before. That expansion of resources empowers them to navigate this tension between the performance to play every hand of the retail poker game, secure the transactions and invest in new ideas for competitive advantage in the next game.

To learn more about the Forrester data, listen to the Web and Mobile Investments Drive Revenue and Loyalty webinar that I recently taped with Mark Grannan, a research analyst at Forrester Consulting. The webinar is based on the CenturyLink-commissioned survey by Forrester which evaluates the current adoption trends and challenges with hosted eCommerce solutions and provides guidance on how organizations can win and retain customers with digital innovation and collaboration.

 

[“source – forbes.com”]