Preventing sluggish service and system drop-outs is critical for Australian retailers banking on online sales to tide them through the coronavirus crisis

Shut up your shop in response to COVID-19 but still open for trade online? You’re not alone. March and April 2020 saw thousands of retail outlets around Australia hang up the “Closed” sign in response to sweeping federal government shutdown and social distancing measures designed to slow the spread of the virus.

At the same time, many of these primarily brick-and-mortar businesses began scaling up their online capabilities. Data collected by logistics consultancy TMI Insight showed some had enjoyed a 100 per cent surge in online sales in the month of April.

Providing slick service to a nation of online shoppers

Even prior to COVID-19, Australians were e-commerce enthusiasts with a capital ”e.” NAB’s Online Retail Sales Index, Monthly Update – March 2020 showed local consumers spent $31.91 billion on online retail in the 12 months prior; a sum that accounts for almost 10 per cent of the total annual retail trade estimate.

Many industry watchers expect the pandemic will result in Australians continuing to do more of their shopping online, even after the health crisis has passed. Those expectations are a compelling incentive for retailers to make their digital user experience as slick and speedy as possible.

Research shows today’s consumers have little patience for vendors that don’t optimise online shopping. Accustomed to the one-stop shopping, suggestive selling, keen prices and speedy delivery offered by Amazon et al, consumers are increasingly less likely to buy from local vendors with amateur offerings.

Monitoring performance

Upping the quality of your user experience starts with getting a handle on how well your online store performs, as customers surf their way around the site, clicking on links and – hopefully – adding to their carts. One way you can improve performance is through the use of synthetic transaction monitoring software,  which allows you to simulate, record and re-perform user interactions. This data can be used to identify issues that are having a negative impact on user experience, such as applications that respond slowly or crash frequently and pages that are slow to load.

If things aren’t working as well as they could be, you’ll want to focus on improving the most critical interactions first – think the forms you use to collect customers’ contact details and process payments. Getting these sorted can mean the difference between clinching a sale and seeing a potential buyer take their business to a competitor’s site because yours has stumbled through the motions too slowly or presented them with an error message.

Synthetic monitoring software can also provide you with detailed metrics to help you gauge how well your site is coping with peaks and troughs in demand. These metrics include average availability and response times from different geographies, and average downtimes, load times and length of outages.

If it turns out your site is crashing with unacceptable frequency, it may be time to upgrade your database and applications servers so that you can serve customers more efficiently during periods of high demand.

Readying your retail business for the customer of tomorrow

It’s fair to say times have never been tougher for Australian retailers. Even prior to the coronavirus crisis, the sector was battling sluggish sales and an exodus of customers to online-only operators with keen prices and quick delivery times. Against this backdrop, technologies that help you compete on the user experience front will prove a prudent investment.

Anugraha Benjamin is product consultant at ManageEngine