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GUEST COMMENT Putting data on the edge in retail – how to balance the need for personalisation, speed and security


The way that we shop and interact with brands is constantly evolving. From hyper-personalisation and social media advertising to near instant food delivery, customers have increasingly high expectations from retailers. However, to enable these personalised, rapid services, more consumer data is required, and the security risk is heightened, writes Paul McNamara, senior solutions engineer at Edgio.

Paul McNamara, senior solutions engineer, Edgio

When the trust is broken, a brand’s reputation is at risk. Take online retail giant Zoetop, owner of Shein and Romwe, for example. Recently in the spotlight for exposing 39 million customers’ data to fraudsters, including passwords and credit card details, the company has been criticised for failing to protect consumers’ personal data and having ‘weak’ cybersecurity.

Retailers need to find the right balance between personalisation, speed, and security. This can be achieved by using an edge-enabled solution which allows your customers to access your websites at lightning-fast speed, and to ensure that cybersecurity is built-in from the get-go. A truly edge-enabled solution will enable retailers to streamline retail operational processes, increase sales, and improve overall customer experience.

Customers crave hyper-personalisation
First, retailers must focus their efforts on customer personalisation, such as recommended products, targeted discounts, and loyalty schemes. A huge 62% of consumers say that a brand will lose their loyalty if they deliver an ‘unpersonalised experience’, and nearly 80% of business leaders state that
consumers spend more when their experience is personalised. However, to enable the levels of personalisation that customers desire requires delivery of greater volumes of sensitive data, that can cause some consumers cause for concern.

For instance, when it comes to what data consumers feel is ‘appropriate’ to collect, the majority are happy for brands to delve into their brand purchase history (80%) and to provide personal preferences (77%) to drive better personalisation. Yet, when looking at other purchase history (44%), browsing history (34%), job and finances (29%) and health (27%), this data storage is deemed inappropriate.

Once retailers have identified the data that is essential to improve customer experience whilst satisfying privacy concerns, they can turn their attention to delivering this personalised service. Working with a platform that enables this kind of service at speed is vital, using A/B servers to test out features on loyal users, then assessing their success before switching everyone to the new service. Quality assurance can also identify overzealous rules that could affect customer experience, ensuring that an optimal service is provided.

Delivering enhanced services at speed
Following personalisation, speed and the thirst for immediacy is a key trend in retail. The Amazon effect has changed e-commerce for good, with customers left with little patience for long delivery times, poor user experience and slow websites. When the stress of waiting for a page to load is equivalent to watching a horror movie, customers will jump ship to those that provide a seamless, rapid experience.

This raises performance challenges for retailers, trying to strike the right balance with personalised experiences. Traditional CDNs cache data at the edge, but going one step further and bringing that data all the way to the end-user’s device will allow your website to load in under a second, even with high levels of personalisation.

Customers may have tapped through an ad or visited the site on a whim, but with fast loading times and good user experience they are more likely to browse an increased range of products and increase spend. Retailers should stress test their services before launch, using controlled experiments to ensure that high traffic does not affect speed of service. This can help to simulate disaster recovery scenarios and prepare business continuity plans, ensuring that retailers can minimise outages and get back up to speed rapidly.

Weave cybersecurity into every function
Ransomware breaches have increased by 13% in a single year—representing a jump greater than the past five years combined. In particular, the retail sector has become a hotbed for cybercriminals over the last 12 months. Unsophisticated cyber-attackers are using more sophisticated tools to steal credit card information and personalisation data, making big gains from small efforts. Although data laws around the world, such as GDPR and CCPA, are working to ensure that data is managed and handled appropriately, this does not eliminate the risk, and the fear of disclosing a breach can often be more of a threat than the fine itself.

Still, cybersecurity is often considered as an afterthought or bolt-on to retail’s digital infrastructure. As attacks have become more sophisticated, this can no longer be the case, and upholding the security of business and customer data is a continual process that requires constant attention. For example, when a burglar checks people’s doors, they only tend to break into the ones that are easy to access and move on from those that are locked. The same applies to cybersecurity, and retailers need to ensure that they keep the doors firmly locked.

Securing the links between retailers, payment companies and banks is crucial to minimise breaches. If the same cybersecurity processes are running through every department and data touchpoint, critical infrastructure is protected, and this reduces opportunities for hackers to gain access. Unifying CDN, security, analytics, monitoring, and deployments in one robust platform helps to mitigate cybersecurity risks, whilst incremental migration of parts of an application allows teams to test rules behind a dual WAF, never leaving a web app exposed to attack in downtime.

Balancing expectations
Cybersecurity can often be considered as a bottleneck to personalisation and speed, but if you’re doing it right it should be an integral part of everything you do – not only to protect business data, but to ensure customer loyalty and brand protection. The key is finding the right balance between personalisation, speed, and security. Choosing the right platform, one which addresses all three, is vital in solving this problem.

Paul McNamara, senior solutions engineer, Edgio

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