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GUEST COMMENT The importance of ‘what if?’

Retailers need to surprise and delight if they are to attract customers

Becoming an ecommerce success is about so much more than the product you sell. Retailers must be brand designers and data experts, sales specialists, masterminds of logistics and customer relationship management. The ecommerce landscape moves fast, requiring each and every set of skills to be constantly refreshed and renewed.

What’s clear is that staying a step ahead of this changing picture is difficult for even the biggest players, let alone those businesses with fewer personnel and fewer resources. The rewards for success are huge, with the global ecommerce market now worth a cool £1.7 trillion. But there are dangers to overcome for any internet business before reaching these heights.

Responding to risk

Analysts point to two categories of risk facing ecommerce brands – “assumptive” and “operational”. Assumptive risks are those resulting from a lack of knowledge, particularly pertinent to younger businesses who will have to rely on some level of judgement in order to take forward steps. Operational risks relate to the daily challenges of running an efficient and effective ecommerce enterprise.

Overcoming assumptive risks is a matter of identifying and recognising the risks, then testing and examining results in order to refine processes. Similar methods are prescribed for operational risks, whereby decision-makers should make themselves aware of any known challenges and plan for them ahead of time. Here, it is essential that ‘known challenges’ include preparing for the unknown. In other words, one of the key challenges facing ecommerce operations is any sudden disruption to tried and tested processes and patterns. The ability to handle these ‘what ifs?’ is critical.

At first, glance, predicting and responding to the unpredictable might seem an impossible task. However, ecommerce leaders are wise enough to recognise the importance of working with third-party experts who can help to flag potential disruptions and can provide the necessary bandwidth in terms of facilities and personnel to enable continued smooth performance.

Contingency support

What is certain is that the consumer simply won’t care for excuses. The whole point of ecommerce is its simplicity and convenience. If behind the scenes complications affect the customer experience, it will be the retail brand that suffers. Flipping this argument, any retailer able to shine during periods of peak and spikes of demand – or during challenging periods caused by strikes or inclement weather – will win consumer trust and loyalty.

The word ‘contingency’ may have negative connotations for many, seen as a band-aid for when things go wrong. However, it is important for businesses to recognise that contingency planning does not simply mean planning for adverse conditions or disruption. The ‘what ifs?’ of contingency planning should also cover the positives of business growth. Consumer behaviour – particularly online behaviour – can be influenced by a huge range of factors. Cultural events, the weather, politics, the media – all can cause major surges of demand over and above the known Black Friday/festive peaks. The right contingency plan will ensure that ecommerce businesses have the capacity to cope and to prosper.

Of course, the quality of contingency support will vary just like any other service. Part of the planning related to operational risk must be to identify a contingency partner that delivers on cost, quality and cultural fit. The best will have strong relationships with a range of delivery providers and the market expertise to identify the best route and solution for each job. They will identify solutions that are sleek, cost-efficient and aligned to customer expectations.

Today’s ecommerce market is vast and complex requiring retailers to continually re-evaluate processes, patterns and performance. Preparing for the unknown is every bit as critical as planning for the known. Rather than go it alone, ecommerce leaders are turning to third-party providers to provide the scale, expertise and flexibility to adapt to the challenges of today and beyond. They are ensuring that the ‘what ifs?’ don’t go unanswered.

Author: Gary Tervit, international services director at P2P

Image credit: Fotolia

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