How should retailers prepare for this holiday season?

E-commerce presents enormous opportunity for retailers. Hong Kong’s 2014 sales value of Internet retailing, excluding tax, was HK$1.5 billion (Hong Kong Trade Development Council), and it is estimated to increase to HK$2.1 billion in 2019.

As Singles’ Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, it is time to start preparing for the holiday season as traffic spikes will affect web performance or even result in downtime.

Retailers need to prepare to serve the needs of their customers through two primary activities that lead to revenue - the shopping phase and the buying phase, to capture additional spending during holiday seasons.

As customers begin the process of searching for a product or service, there are a number of potential channels available to them, including emails from retailers, websites and online search.

Retailers should focus their efforts on improving the personalisation of their emails to increase the likelihood of opens, click-through and eventually purchases.

This will also push more consumers into the "shopped from this website before" group, helping to create a growing, loyal customer base.

Success here is tied to customers' abilities to access the content they need to move from awareness to consideration in a simple, fast and reliable way – regardless of content type, device being used, or location.

A cohesive purchasing experience across physical and digital channels (regardless of location, device type or size) is no longer the exception for advanced retailers. It is fast becoming the norm – table stakes for success.

"Customers increasingly expect that all parts of their relationship with a retailer – loyalty programs, past purchase history, customer service and other interactions – will be connected, regardless of how and when they interact with the retailer," according to 2015 Retail Holiday Planning Playbook, July 2015, National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics.

According to The Nielsen Global Survey of E-commerce conducted in 2014, Hong Kong consumers tend to be researchers when engaging in e-commerce.

More than three out of five respondents will check out products in the store before purchasing them online (61%), or they will often look at products online before purchasing them in the store (60%).

Hence, retailers need to ensure their digital experiences are optimized across devices, screen sizes, operating systems, browsers and locations so customers have a consistent, reliable experience wherever they are.

Akamai’s Performance Matters report reveals that consumers participate in e-commerce research activity more frequently on mobile devices and tablets than on desktops in three key categories: searching for products, comparing prices, and reading reviews.

The report shows that 56% of mobile users and 57% of tablet users search for products once a week or more, compared to 37% of desktop users.

Additionally, 15% of mobile and tablet users search daily, compared to 5% of desktop users. In terms of price comparison, 52% of mobile users and 53% of tablet users compared prices once a week or more, while 34% used their desktops to do so.

On the reviews front, 46% of mobile users and 50% of tablet users read reviews online once a week or more, compared to 28% of desktop users.

The ability to quickly transition from reviewing product content, images, and reviews then into a buying decision phase increases the conversion rate. Cloud-based, globally distributed technologies are a key component to success in delivering an omni-channel experience that is content rich, fast and reliable.

Caley Iandiorio is global industry marketing manager for commerce at Akamai Technologies