Seamless online experience lies in the cloud

The amount of consumers engaging with content around the clock and researching purchase decisions across multiple channels means providing a seamless customer experience is more important than ever, writes Jason Miller.

With the rapid adoption of mobile devices, as well as the expansion of free WiFi hotspots and high speed internet, we now live in an always-on world. Be it the train station or the café down town, people are consuming information and communicating on a 24/7 basis. This instant access to a wealth of data anytime, anywhere, has led to the birth of consumers who are far more empowered, connected and informed today.

The result of enjoying infinite variety? People now demand instant gratification and ‘quick fixes’ more than ever. Importantly, consumer expectations are consistently rising – no longer are they comparing businesses against one another, but benchmarking an experience against the best experience they have had to date. As such, every time they have a better experience, it sets the bar higher.

Evidently, consumers are increasingly attuned to what they perceive as an ideal shopping experience. Like never before, businesses are faced with new and ever growing challenges to keep users engaged and maintain consumer allegiance, all whilst offering a seamless online experience from mobile to desktop.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a more seamless buying journey for consumers across multiple touchpoints. It is vital for businesses to tailor the experience across each device. More importantly, as opposed to implementing technology-driven customer experiences, retailers need to adopt a more customer-centric mindset – start with the experience your customers demand and deploy the right technologies to support that.

The challenge is: how do we enrich the experience without negatively impacting performance?

Related: How to tackle the four key challenges of digital transformation »

The mobile influence

According to a report by Deloitte, over a trillion dollars of in-store retail sales is influenced by digital technologies. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to situational usage as they are never without their mobile device. In fact, 79% of Australians own a smartphone today and more than 80% cannot go an hour after waking without checking their device – with a third checking their smartphone within five minutes.

Without a doubt, expectations are being driven by advancements in mobile technologies and most consumers would now rather be without their wallet than their mobile.

While businesses are recognising the importance of mobile, they often get so hung up on the concept of channels that they don’t put the proper focus on the way consumers shop and the many different devices they utilise in that journey. Customers don’t think of channels when they shop, they just expect a seamless experience from the brand.

Consumer online habits are now very situational – it could begin on their mobile during the commute to work, they then move onto the desktop at the office before ending their journey on a tablet. Mobile has become a key driver of sales and product research even though many users complete the purchase on a tablet or desktop. According to Deloitte, Australian consumers are already turning what was once ‘downtime’ into ‘browse time’, with 65% browsing shopping websites on their smartphones.

Finding digital success in an omni-channel world

If users are not provided with their desired experience, anytime, anywhere, it is very likely that they will take their business somewhere else. In fact, according to Akamai’s 2014 ‘Performance Matters’ report, 50% of dissatisfied users will visit another website to accomplish their activity, whilst more than one-in-five (22%) will not return to a website where problems have occurred.

Further to that, mobile and tablet users are also more likely to abandon a website than desktop users when experiencing slow performance or crashes – indicating a difference in expectations across devices.

The key to digital success lies in creating a journey that enables consumers to easily and seamlessly jump between devices – from mobile to desktop and back again. What is critical here is the implementation of a mobile web strategy, as well as a seamless design across multiple touchpoints.

Businesses recognise that consumers require dynamic, image rich experiences. With that, images have also become the top obstacle to delivering high performing, responsive sites. While responsive design aids in enabling businesses to offer that seamless, multi-device experience consumers are looking for, this alone will not suffice.

 

Why does the key to seamless online experiences lie in the cloud?

Responsive web design is a key building block to providing a more seamless experience for users across an array of devices. However basic responsive design is subject to over downloading on mobile devices especially when it comes to images, which increases page load time and leads to dissatisfied customers. By taking advantage of a cloud-centric image management solution businesses are able to optimise images for any device by taking into account device capabilities and dynamically creating the proper sized images download times are dramatically improved.

Not only does this offload requests from origin infrastructure by getting content closer to end users, it enables additional compression of images based on network connectivity issues further enhancing the overall speed and performance of a website.

By leveraging the cloud, businesses can save on download time and ensure the swift availability of dynamic, feature-rich content.

Ultimately, businesses need to realise that it is not enough to create a visually appealing website – sites need to be reliable, secure and fast to meet consumer expectations, across any device, anytime.

 

Jason Miller is chief strategist of commerce at Akamai Technologies 

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