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Retailers Must Prepare to Scale in the Post-COVID Commerce Boom

How Acquia's customer data platform helped retailers deal with new demands of digital commerce in 2020 and in a post-COVID landscape.

In the face of disruption, retail therapy is more popular than ever. The retail market saw a huge lift in traffic overall in 2020 compared to previous years as widespread store closures from the pandemic led people to turn to online shopping as their primary source to get the items they needed. And even customers who already had a preference for e-commerce over traditional brick-and-mortar retailers cited that they were turning to online shopping more often as a way to relieve lockdown boredom, provide a sense of comfort and achieve a sense of normalcy as the world continues to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As predicted, the pandemic caused big shifts in consumer behaviors for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with many embracing digital channels like e-commerce, virtual reality and contactless ordering and pickup options. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), 2020 online and non-store holiday sales increased 23.9% percent from 2019. 

The digital transformation of retail is opening new opportunities for brands to re-evaluate their approach to customer experience and boost revenue long beyond the holiday season in order to win lifetime customer value in our new post-COVID landscape. 

Turning Traffic and Performance Spikes into Immediate Shopper Insights

At Acquia, our retail customers saw enormous spikes in traffic and purchases during the 2020 holiday season. One customer experienced 25% growth in overall sales from Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2020 compared to 2019. Here are a few of the data points we gathered from our retail customers:

 

  • A major U.S. home furnishings retailer saw 20% growth in holiday sales year over year 
  • Black Friday-related spikes began early Thursday, and multiple customers sustained this increased load over the entire week with a 4x peak in traffic on Friday and Monday
  • One client experienced 15x their average web traffic
  • Multiple retail customers reported traffic ingestion spikes of 8x to 20x higher volume compared to 2019
  • Event spikes were on average significantly larger than 2019, one customer reached peaks of 75K events per minute compared to peaks of 30K events per minute in 2019

 

All of these massive traffic spikes and a flux of new visitors mean retailers are being inundated with enormous amounts of customer data and requests. And no one expects this push to digital-first commerce to revert back to normal, even after the holidays. This past month at NRF’s 2021 virtual trade show, retail leaders predicted that this mass consumer surge to digital channels will persist even after the pandemic restrictions are lifted. To hold onto these new opportunities and stay connected to their customers, retail companies must invest in technology that supports frictionless customer experiences. Uniting all of these interactions depends on designing a seamless data journey across all channels. Data from supply chains, online interactions, sales transactions and brick-and-mortar locations will help retailers deliver future-ready customer experiences in this new digital landscape. 

Brands need to manage all of their customer data across a variety of channels and touchpoints without sacrificing the fast, dependable experiences customers expect both when shopping in-store or online. Thankfully, our retail clients could be confident that they could quickly deliver ambitious and relevant customer experiences due to the elasticity and scalability of Acquia’s Customer Data Platform (CDP). Acquia CDP’s machine learning framework features a data pipeline that ingests real-time events, web traffic and data spikes, surfacing any unique attributes or specifications across the whole data pipeline. 

For retailers, this meant the spikes were less of a burden and more of an opportunity to ingest greater amounts of data that could then be standardized into an instantly accessible format across all of a brand’s sources of data. This is critical for retailers who need immediate insights into their customers to demonstrate the ROI and value coming from these activities. The more you can understand a customer’s preferences and behaviors, the better informed you will be to offer them a meaningful and memorable experience.  

A Scalable, Dependable Solution For Every Event 

The other top priority for retailers to keep up with the wave of digital acceleration is making sure their technology can extend and adapt their business operations to offer customers simple and convenient experiences and respond in the moment to everything from mobile orders to delivery and distribution services to customer service requests. Customers don’t want to see the work behind the scenes to make things happen; they just want a direct method to solve their problem.

Having a CDP that delivers during peak times means that retailers don’t have to worry about delays in their digital experiences or struggle with data silos that lead to a disconnected and frustrating journey for their customers. A persistent and centralized customer database makes it easy to understand and activate all of their customer data in real time. Brands gain access to metrics as they become available. Acquia CDP leverages predictive machine learning models that are purpose built for retail, such as Likelihood to Buy and Customer Lifetime Value, to help retailers analyze the data they are collecting and identify future opportunities to engage shoppers across online and offline channels. Acquia CDP customers experienced smooth campaign execution and performance with the following results:

  • Mean API latency of <10 milliseconds on event API calls
  • 99% of the time delay was <2 seconds
  • Longest delay peak was 6 seconds

 

Overall, the greatest advantage offered by Acquia CDP is its open and complete approach to integrating data. As an open and flexible data solution, a CDP makes these big, unprecedented events uneventful. Backed by an intelligent and secure customer data foundation, retailers can rest assured that Acquia has their back to handle the big loads, so they can focus on delivering the best possible experiences to their customers even in the midst of major tectonic shifts in the retail industry. As we look ahead to what comes next, these impressive 2020 holiday results prove that a customer data platform is the critical backbone for any retailer looking to grow their approach to digital commerce and deliver fast, relevant experiences at scale.

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