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How to navigate retail in a post-COVID world

While the COVID-19 pandemic poses very real health and economic consequences around the globe, it has also provided an opportunity for technologists to seize the initiative and drive through wide-reaching and impactful digital transformation initiatives. Without exception, all industries have felt the pressure to rapidly innovate, and for Australian retailers the importance of aligning their online and offline business strategy can’t be overstated.

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In recent months, the world has witnessed the immense power of technology to connect and help businesses pivot to always-on digital strategies. Businesses changed course overnight as consumers headed into lockdown and IT departments across the globe contended with surging demand as well as the urgency to advance digital transformation in a matter of weeks.

These events have highlighted the critical role of the technologist in high-pressure business decision-making. Retail technologists now have the opportunity to deliver an enduring legacy of innovation which will leave their businesses more resilient in the longer term.

Digital, digital, digital

As a result of quarantine and restrictions, the shopping habits of consumers have shifted online with online shopping up 31 percent in April 2020 when compared to April 2019, resulting in a need for digital services and applications to be performing at their optimal peak. Customers are becoming more loyal to applications than they are to brands themselves. As such, retailers must ensure that their digital strategies reflect these changes and invest in providing seamless application performance and exceptional customer experiences. By catering to customers’ digital needs, retailers can be confident they will not only retain customers but also increase customer loyalty and ‘word-of-mouth’ in the digital age.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of having a customer-centric focus on digital platforms while revealing the challenges technologists are currently facing. According to AppDynamics’ recent study ‘The Agents of Transformation Report 2020: COVID-19 Special Edition, 66 percent of retail technologists indicated they are facing their highest levels of personal pressure as a result of the pandemic. With the increased pressure to deliver projects at pace, there has been no time for lengthy planning cycles or comprehensive proof of concept testing.

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The critical role of the technologist

With the increasing demand for online shopping and e-commerce platforms, technologists are being heavily relied upon to guide critical decision-making. The role of the technologist has previously been considered a ‘back office’ function within the business. As retailers prioritise the digital customer experience, they must align business strategies and begin prioritising the needs of their tech teams, treating the IT function as vital to the overall success of the business. It is crucial that IT teams are provided with the right resources and tools to be able to guide their businesses through the challenges ahead.

Further, according to the recent AppDynamics research, 80 percent of respondents view Agents of Transformation as critical to businesses recovering quickly from the pandemic. In the current climate, there is now immense pressure for technologists to identify and resolve issues at pace, make consumer-centric decisions, implement new digital functions, and operate as Agents of Transformation within their organisations.

Be the change

Retailers must ensure their technologists have access to the tools and accurate data they need to make informed, strategic decisions in real-time, and connect application and digital performance to key business outcomes. Now more than ever, application performance monitoring (APM) has become critical. Without access to APM tools and the transparency and insights they deliver, the future success of digital transformation projects is on the line.

The digital customer experience is paramount. This is always the case, however, the need has escalated during COVID-19, with AppDynamics research showing that 92% of retail respondents consider this their number one priority – higher than any other vertical industry surveyed in the study.

Technologists are stepping up in their organisations’ hour of need, guiding them through the current crisis and accelerating a return to growth. They are relying on visibility and insight into the performance of their technology stack, from the applications, through the IT infrastructure, to the network. They are leveraging this intelligence to innovate and adapt, taking action and implementing new strategies to meet the needs of their customers, securely and at record speed. They are reimagining applications, securing data, transforming infrastructures and empowering their teams.

Organisations must do all they can to provide their technologists with the tools, leadership and support they need to accelerate their journey to become an Agent of Transformation and deliver the positive business outcomes that retailers require at this time.

Benjamin Weldon is regional director for Australia and New Zealand at AppDynamics