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With online sales outpacing in-store buys, it’s more crucial than ever to offer users a high-quality retail experience. Here are three critical success factors for e-business.

February 2019 was a banner month for the U.S. retail market. It was the first time in history that America’s online sales outpaced in-store purchases, marking the culmination of a two-decade shift in traditional retail growth trends.

In the late 1990s, online sales accounted for only 5% of the retail market. While brick-and-mortar sales still beat online in the restaurant and automobile sectors, online has cornered the market for general merchandise.

Online’s outperformance of in-store retail confirms one thing: People prefer to buy most things online. That’s not to say, however, that any old online shopping experience will do — just the opposite. The emergence of e-commerce redefined the customer experience by offering more products, channels, and brands than customers had ever seen before.

A choice between endless products was once the exception, but it has become the expectation for consumers. This change puts retailers in an awkward position: No one can afford to avoid e-commerce, yet thriving online requires precision and perfection. All the potential of online sales goes out of the window when shoppers can take their business to your competition with just a few clicks.

Delivering a high-quality online retail experience isn’t easy, but it doesn’t require the resources of Amazon. Instead, focus on three critical success factors for e-business:

• Availability: It’s hard to love a site that isn’t there. Unfortunately, websites are vulnerable to a bevy of cyberattacks and operational issues, any of which can take them offline or cause them to perform poorly. One of the priorities is managing cybersecurity, which becomes a lot easier with the aid of security infrastructure automation.

Instead of racing around trying to identify and address emergencies, SIA does the monitoring and sends alerts to administrators telling them when, where, and why their input is required. Maintaining site performance still requires a lot of work, but automation handles the worst of it. It’s why, for example, O’Reilly Auto Parts can put a website that services more than 5,000 stores in the care of a five-person security team.

• Responsiveness: Most sites are mobile-optimized, but what about more nascent devices like smartwatches and VR headsets? Visitors expect sites to adapt to their devices and to load quickly — no matter what. These expectations are so ingrained that an e-commerce website making $100,000 a day could lose $2.5 million in sales annually because of a one-second page delay.

Maintaining responsiveness will be an overwhelming and ongoing effort, which is yet another reason retailers are rushing to automate. Automation allows an in-house IT team to focus on perfecting the user experience while SIA detects, triages, and resolves operational issues.

• Personalization: How has e-commerce changed consumer retailing? In large part, by raising the stakes for customization. More than 90% of consumers will likely do business with brands that remember their preferences, but that’s complicated.

Personalizing all channels — not just a website — depends on leveraging customer data on a massive scale. That data is also subject to strict new regulations like GDPR, making strong data security a necessity. Automation ensures that data is an asset by allowing companies to leverage it on a large scale for personalization without increasing their threat exposure. Essentially, automation allows security to scale with data volumes.

It’s not hard to read the writing on the wall when it comes to retail industry growth trends. More sales will shift online, but whether they shift toward specific retailers depends on the experiences those retailers offer. Automation doesn’t guarantee happy customers, but it goes a long way toward ensuring the kind of experiences they expect without heaping a ton of extra work on IT.

Does network automation sound like something your retailer’s operations team could use?  Try Indeni now as a full featured VM in your own lab.

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