The pandemic totally shook-up online retail in ANZ; businesses had to quickly learn how to better engage with consumers online; how to attract and retain customers, and how to deal with huge increases in web traffic.  Smart operators quickly took on more personalised approaches and sought to create meaningful relationships, enabling them to stand out from competitors in a newly over-crowded market. As restrictions have lifted, we see online and bricks-and-mortar stores become increasingly more connected, so the fight to stay competitive has never been more challenging.

There’s a line of thought that the surge in online shopping has peaked and will now return to pre-pandemic levels, but in reality, this just isn’t the case. The most important thing a business can do now is to future-proof their website to stay competitive and able to meet ever-increasing customer expectations.

Consumer understanding of eCommerce has matured as fast as advancements in technology; customers are hungry for immersive tech and entry to the metaverse. Rather than shrink to pre-pandemic size, the recent FIS’ Global Payments Report predicts that the eCommerce market will grow by 51 per cent in the next four years, so retail businesses need to reconsider if their website is ready and capable for the demands ahead – or risk being left behind.

Embrace the future of retail

Shopping in a virtual store with an avatar may seem like a world away but it is inching closer to reality in the eCommerce space. While eCommerce continues to grow, we are finding that consumers crave the personal experience they receive in a bricks-and-mortar store, so businesses must find a way to bring this to life online. WP Engine’s 2021 Generational Resilience Report, revealed that Gen Z have high expectations for an increasingly more ‘human web’, with 56 per cent believing that websites will begin exhibiting human emotions in the next five years.

The metaverse, once a concept only, is now very much our next reality. This shift towards a more immersive and personal online shopping experience is the way forward. Retailers need to optimise their websites to best manage this evolution.

Focus on tech

Research from Criteo reveals that nearly one-third of Australians believe that retailer and brand websites have become more influential in their purchase decisions over the last two years. With this in mind, retailers need to embrace technologies that can help enhance their overall customer experience.

We are already seeing progressive retailers make their products more accessible by adopting technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). For example, L’Oreal Paris offers a ‘Virtual Try-On’ on its website to allow consumers to test makeup and hair colours without stepping a foot in store. Australia’s Fantastic Furniture lets you virtually see their sofas in situ in your lounge room before you purchase.

The opportunities enabled by technology are endless and will continue to expand with the increasing development of the metaverse. Whether retailers are looking to create 3D shopping experiences with AR and VR or embracing a headless eCommerce approach, the metaverse will give retailers the chance to develop entire worldly experiences for consumers to explore products and services.

Invest in the experts

There is no escaping the fact that the future of retail, combined with the speed of tech advancement, can be daunting. While it is important to understand what is to come, retailers are not expected to be experts in this field. Now is the time to consider investing in services such as web hosting to provide the best possible consumer experience and create a smooth transition to the future of retail.

One of the key benefits of investing in expertise, especially in a web hosting platform like WP Engine, is the ability to scale with ease. As a retailer, you want your website to grow and develop as your business does, which includes expanding not only your bandwidth and product offerings but also your website features, to enable you to better assist your customers. We have a specific WooCommerce offering to assist retailers, to give them the tools they need to create the ultimate shopping experience – and the bandwidth to avoid any website crashes that may come from a boost in popularity or increase in immersive technology. It is a simple solution to take your website to the next level.

With the future of retail demanding more from websites than ever, and consumer expectations continuing to expand, now is the time for businesses to optimise and future proof to succeed in this space.

Mark Randall is country manager for Australia and New Zealand at WP Engine.