The importance of being ‘Always-On’ in retail

Customer data is becoming increasingly integral to the retail environment, alongside the ability to create a unique user experience. Having such data readily accessible in an ‘Always-On’ retail world can often mean the difference between consumer favour and suffering significant reputational damage.

Thanks to the fast pace of technological innovation, and its associated ease of use, many consumers have come to expect a more integrated digital and real-world relationship with retailers. Whether it is a case of participating in online shopping or looking for specials at their favourite outlet, the world of retail has changed significantly over recent years.

Today the first impression is your website, availability of information, and how easily that can be accessed. Simply creating a place to host PDF versions of your catalogues is not good enough in the digital world where retailers are just one click away from losing custom to competitors.

Integral to this shift into a more digital environment is the adoption of the Always-On business model. For retailers, this is about maximising uptime to provide the biggest shop window for consumers. Veeam’s 2016 Availability Report found in the UK the average cost of downtime for mission-critical applications is $100,266 per hour, and 59 per cent of respondents revealed their organisations’ applications encounter unplanned downtime caused by IT failures, external forces or other factors up to 10 times per year. For retailers, this can have a major impact on the bottom line, as well as negatively impacting customer confidence and integrity. Therefore, resuming full system functionality is critical in order to reduce costs and retain consumer loyalty and trust.

With the world’s connected population soaring to record levels last year (3.4 billion people or around 42 per cent of the globe’s population), and predictions there will be almost 21 billion connected devices by the end of 2020, the need to deliver 24/7 access to data and applications has never been more important. However, it seems that retailers have not received that message, despite more than half of respondents stating that they have invested heavily in data centre modernisation specifically to increase availability levels.

Maintaining this Always-On model means that businesses must give their customers the ability to access their online platforms at any place and any time. If the website is offline, or cannot provide a customised experience according to their unique requirements, consumers are likely to move on to the next retailer who can, affecting the bottom line and reducing the chances of repeat custom.

However, consumer satisfaction is not just about the online presence. Traditional retail outlets who are in remote locations also need to have technology in place to create a seamless transaction experience. Often it is small things like entering information at the point of sale that can make or break the consumer experience. If it happens fast, then the customer is likely to return. However, if there is a delay due to an unresponsive data centre, then they may go elsewhere in the future.

Looking beyond customer-facing technology in the retail environment, the modern data centre is also supporting another vital responsibility – the supply chain. Shipping goods from distribution centres to outlets is critical for success in such a fast-paced environment where customer expectations are high and increasingly, given the power and proliferation of social media, both negative and positive experiences can be easily shared. If the data centre is unable to keep up with such Always-On demands, then the entire business value proposition could be at risk. Decision-makers need to ask themselves whether there is enough availability and efficiency from a technology standpoint across the business. In other words, are they tracking where goods in transit are, as well as their real-time stock levels? Employees able to easily access this information can ensure a smoother visit for the customer, and a more efficient and productive working day.

Critically, retailers are quick to invest significantly in their online stores. However, when it comes to ensuring the quality and availability of the data centre, there are still some points of concern. Further to this, 71 per cent of our survey respondents from the retail, distribution, and transport sectors confirmed that the main business driver for data centre modernisation within their organisations is to enable 24/7, Always-On business operations to cater for increasing user demands.

The data centre in the modern retail environment fulfils a mission-critical role. Taking the steps necessary to make sure it is available and responsive to the requirements of a data-driven world must be a priority for all retailers.

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