Essential Retail (ER): Tell us about SOASTA's role in the retail industry.
Vincent DeGennaro (VD): SOASTA currently works with over 50 of the top 100 internet retailers. The number continues to grow, in part due to the direct link between performance, revenue and reputation. Driving visitors to a retailer's website is a challenge but a bigger challenge lies in ensuring a good and sustained number of conversions. Conversion ratios are linked to performance issues and online performance is a strong factor in how consumers rate their experience on a retailer's site. Many retailers' reputations and revenues ride on how consumers perceive these, so getting this right is essential.
ER: Why should retailers be concerned about digital performance management?
VD: With more and more business being done online and across a variety of digital devices, retailers must be able to better understand, respond and anticipate the needs and expectations of online users. Today's consumer is savvy and demanding, and that extends to their expectations of a retailers' digital estate. When milliseconds can often be the difference between a consumer staying or leaving your site, identifying and managing any performance issues is essential.
Digital performance management (DPM) allows retailers to connect the dots between IT, user experience and business performance. In an increasingly competitive landscape, it is important that retailers are able to respond rapidly to performance issues across their digital estate that may impact conversion or revenue. DPM is more than just a window into a retailer's digital estate, it helps encourage and build collaboration across departments and provides a better understanding of the impact that one department can have on the wider business. For example, a marketing programme designed to drive more eyeballs to a retailer's website and increase revenues may employ rich graphics and images. As appealing as they may be, they can inadvertently slow the load time of a web page and ultimately reduce the optimal performance times and affect conversions – the complete opposite of what the marketing campaign was designed to achieve in the first place.
ER: How can retailers get the best use out of data while avoiding information overload?
VD: SOASTA's DPM platform enables retailers to gain critical performance insights by measuring, testing and optimising their digital estates. Crucially, the data that is gathered is stored indefinitely and without additional cost by SOASTA. This enables retailers to interrogate real user data to model and plan for future events. To avoid information overload, key data can be called up and displayed in a Digital Operations Centre (DOC). The DOC allows information to be tailored on the screen so that different teams can view aspects of the data that is pertinent to them. So, IT professionals would use the DOC to view a set of data and metrics that highlights load and performance issues while the executive team will use the same data to view the business impact that load and performance issues are having on the business. Critically, the real-time nature of the data allows professionals across the retail organisation to better understand their contributions and impact they have on the overall performance of a retailer’s digital estate and the impact on revenue and reputation.
ER: What evidence are you seeing that retailers are planning better for peak periods of trading?
VD: With the popularity of flash sales and the entrenchment of Black Friday in the UK, retailers are increasingly looking at more long-term strategies to ensure they are on top of any load and performance issues. Many of the retailers we work with have adopted a continuous performance testing approach to deal with unexpected spikes alongside the more established peak periods. A growing number of retailers are embracing data analytics to provide a more holistic view around performance and what that means for business and technical outcomes.
ER: How focused is the retail industry on speeding up website performance?
VD: Retailers are increasingly focused on website performance issues, partly due to the very public nature of website failures and crashes. It is clear that many retailers understand that the real issue is knowing what parts of their website need to load faster and which pages need not. Fast is a relative term – the real measure lies in understanding how fast your website needs to be in order to meet the expectations of your end users. The benchmark is not other retailers sites but knowing which of your website pages need to load faster, how the page needs to look and load, so that any speed improvements has a positive impact on the user journey and conversions.
ER: What do you think are the common practices of successful digital retailers?
VD: Amazon is often cited as an example of a successful digital retailer and many retailers look to emulate its success. Success comes from a number of factors, some of which Amazon does very well. Amazon's approach mirrors much of what SOASTA's DPM platform delivers. The ability to continuously measure, test and optimise your digital estate; to be able to delve into real user data to solve real time performance issues as well as plan ahead; to be able to gain valuable insights and actionable intelligence through data analytics; to be able to drive an increase in conversions and revenue. These are some of the hallmarks and practices of successful digital retailers.