During the pandemic, Australia’s retailers had to swiftly digitise infrastructure, adopt new sales channels, and rethink delivery models. These actions may have staved off the worst for some, but retailers aren’t out of the woods yet. Customer expectations are evolving once more—from growing demand for buy-now-pay-later payment plans to real-time trackability of deliveries—retailers face renewed pressure to deliver more on the digital front.

And the stakes have never been higher. Non-retail brands are leading the charge for digital and highly personalised customer experiences, forcing retailers to catch up or be left on the sidelines. How can they rethink digital infrastructure, make the right investments, and adapt to this new paradigm? Below are a few considerations for Australia’s retailers.

Work out gaps in your infrastructure

Like most enterprises, retailers have likely already undergone unique digital transformations designed for prior customer needs of the time. But with expectations rapidly changing, retailers must once again analyse the topography of their network infrastructure and determine if it sufficiently meets future loads. If your network is showing signs of distress during current spikes, it will most certainly buckle under greater loads, like End of Fiscal Year (EOFY) sales.

I’d always recommend retailers, and their IT crews, conduct an honest review of their current tech stack, identify common challenges, and make investments where necessary. Some common challenges retailers might face include:

  • Unscalable on-prem systems
    For retailers still hosting their own mission-critical systems, consider a software-defined approach with SD-WAN architecture, especially if plans include a transition to the cloud. Traditional monitoring and manual routing are no longer agile enough to keep up with peak traffic periods or high network congestion.
  • Cost-inefficient cloud networks
    Retailers seeking to embrace containerised or micro-services architecture to deliver greater digital retail experiences must consider cloud orchestration, ensuring greater automation of cloud processes and increasing overall efficiency while keeping errors and costs low.
  • Ensuring robust content delivery
    Global retailers are increasingly considering Content Delivery Networks (CDN) to ensure their global customers are shown relevant content and receive the right digital experience with as little delay or bottlenecks as possible. This is critical for retailers with huge media or item catalogues.
  • The need for ‘always-on’ sales experiences
    E-commerce has enabled customers to shop for whatever they want, whenever they want. Retailers must provide 24/7 undisrupted experiences, making disaster recovery and backup non-negotiable. Retailers must conduct constant recovery and backup exercises to ensure their infrastructure is resilient and up to snuff.

It’s all about real-time monitoring

Whatever a retailer’s challenge may be, the single most critical investment decision they can make is to improve their monitoring capabilities. Real-time monitoring isn’t only about detecting issues or bottlenecks the moment they occur—it’s also essential in providing retailers with much-needed contextual data on page visits, peak periods, and rates of conversion.

Real-time monitoring informs retailers which areas of their infrastructure may benefit from consistent stress tests to improve resiliency and ensure continuous delivery of experience during popular sales periods. This also highlights mission-critical areas where backup and restoration processes should be improved to provide zero customer experience disruption. And above all, the data will help more ambitious retailers establish DevOps or AIOps projects to meet customer needs and set themselves above the competition.

In other words, real-time monitoring solutions help retailers maintain the status quo while giving them the information they need to innovate and more effectively push the envelope in this new digital paradigm of e-commerce.

Keeping apace with evolving expectations

Throughout the pandemic, and I’d daresay before, Australia’s retailers were largely reactive, emphasizing a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to the customer experience. But rapid technological change, coupled with an increasingly competitive global market, means such an approach is much too slow and cumbersome, leaving organisations to play constant catch-up.

To remain ahead, retailers must now learn to better leverage data gained from real-time monitoring of their networks and infrastructure, along with the latest digital technologies and methodologies. The measures detailed above are recommendations to get started. From now on, retailers need to seek investments into solutions providing greater long-term value, such as containerised applications or Natural Language Processing (NLP), enabling the deployment of intelligent chatbots for an enhanced customer experience, regardless of the sales channel.

It’s the way forward for the future of retail—adopting digital solutions to deliver greater personalisation and self-service (including holistic customer sales journeys) while positioning your enterprise for whichever direction the winds of change may blow in the global and local retail industry.

Thomas LaRock is Head Geek at SolarWinds.