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Why real-time data will hold the key for retailers this Christmas

(Image credit: Shutterstock / carlos castilla)

Christmas shopping season is upon us. But consumer expectations of retailers have been transformed by experience buying from Amazon and other innovative retailers able to provide fast, efficient omnichannel experiences.

Last year, Covid-19 lockdowns that restricted shopping at brick-and-mortar stores sent shoppers online. Indeed, end of year data for 2020 from the ONS found that the total value of internet spending in the UK increased by 46.1 percent in the year – the highest annual growth rate since 2008.

This year promises to be unlike any other we’ve seen before. The last 18 months of digital acceleration has created a comfort-level with e-commerce and delivery. In tandem, consumer expectations have grown. Online shoppers expect immediate responses-- even a millisecond of delay is too long. Indeed, over half of Brits claim a slow webpage is the key reason for abandoning an online purchase, and just under half refuse to revisit a website following a bad experience. Furthermore, a global supply chain crisis and labor shortages, which are likely to limit the ability to keep stores stocked throughout the Christmas shopping season, and spur increased consumer demand. Recent data also forecasts that spending by UK shoppers will increase by 6.3 percent this Christmas compared to 2020.

In this rapidly changing environment, retailers need a powerful data platform that can help them adapt and respond with more flexibility and agility than ever before to capture digital and omnichannel shoppers, and optimize their inventory. 

Why being a ‘real-time’ retailer is more important than ever before

The modern shopper has become accustomed to being able to quickly search for an item and being able to determine within seconds if that item is available for pickup at a local shop or can be delivered within a guaranteed window to either them or a gift recipient. But this “new normal” requires retailers to have access to accurate inventory data - often across multiple channels, both in-store and online. 

The key is investing in real-time inventory. This enables a robust omnichannel retail strategy that delivers a unified, seamless, and consistent customer experience across all physical stores, websites, and mobile apps. With potentially fewer items available on the shelves this year, and shipping timelines longer than ever before, retailers must be able to identify where items are located, at a given moment, at the right price.

The six qualities of a real-time retailer include:

  • The ability to offer an authentic personalized service, based on consistent customer data across all points of contact.
  • The ability to make the user experience feel responsive by ensuring that basic steps in the customer journey—showing products in stock, searching through previous purchases, reserving items for pickup— are convenient, user-friendly, and efficient.
  • Contemporaneous inventory capabilities, enabling a consistent view of stock availability across every internal and external-facing channel.
  • Optimized supply-chain management to avoid stockouts and overstocking.
  • A fast, flexible, and responsive fulfillment process.
  • Systems capable of scaling up or down in response to predictable and unpredictable fluctuations in demand.

Embrace the need for speed 

Consumers expect immediate gratification. However, faster responses for mobile apps and websites is only the beginning. Retailers must improve all stages of the customer journey - including offering lightning-quick browsing of the product catalog, and blazing fast e-commerce search functionality.

Caching is often the easiest way for online retailers to deliver instant shopping experiences with minimal resources and overhead. Instant indexing of the product catalog and full-text search support allows shoppers to be able to quickly search and filter across hundreds of items to find what they are looking for.

Dazzle your customers with real-time data

Retailers can make the user experience feel more responsive by ensuring that basic steps in the customer journey -- showing products in stock, searching through previously bought items, reserving items for pickup -- are convenient, user-friendly, and efficient. For example, displaying whether an item is in stock across different physical stores requires an instantaneous view of inventory that can accurately resolve conflicting updates from multiple regions. Successfully optimizing the digital supply chain can also result in more efficient order fulfillment, cost management, and forecasting across the business.

Accurate data ensures that communications with customers related to order status or stock availability are not just timely, but also based in fact, and can provide useful insights to drive marketing and promotional activity.

Expect the unexpected

A real-time retailer’s omnichannel and supply chain systems must also be able to scale up when required to meet increased demand around predictable, major events of the retailer’s year, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, competitor’s sales, as well as special events such as the release of limited-edition items. 

These systems must also be able to scale up to meet shoppers’ expectations during unpredictable surges in demand. These might be caused by surprise endorsements from online influencers, or by unexpected external events, such as when demand for cycling and hardware products soared during Covid-19 lockdowns, or non-perishable supplies as a consequence of unexpected weather conditions.

Given this year’s supply chain and shipping challenges, synchronization of inventory and having immediate access to the latest data is a business imperative. ​​Without synchronous inventory management that works at scale and ensures consistency across their channels, retailers will frustrate customers, reduce brand loyalty, and miss out on sales.

Delivering real-time retail requires personalized customer-facing processes, present inventory that enables optimized stock management, and scalability and resilience to continue operating in any situation -- especially during high-volume seasons. Savvy retailers are hardening their systems now to prepare for the complexities of what could be the largest and most challenging Christmas shopping season ever.

Ashish Sahu, Director Database & Technology Product Marketing, Redis

Ashish Sahu

Ashish is Head of Product and Solution Marketing at Redis. He has broad experience with launching in-memory databases, big data, analytics, and AI products at SAP, Cask Data, and Google Cloud.