Retail Businesses are integrating new approaches to deal with the COVID pandemic. Team eCommerce Next interviewed Mr. Subbu Varadarajan, Founder and Chief Product Officer of Zycada Networks to get more insights. Following is our interview with him:
1) How has the global pandemic altered the needs and expectations of consumers?
The COVID pandemic has sped up the shift away from brick and mortar retail and towards e-commerce. While this trend had been unfolding for years, COVID significantly accelerated it. Consumers naturally expect convenience from online retail. After all, convenience has traditionally been the primary appeal of e-commerce: shoppers trade the dependability of being able to touch and try out products in person for the freedom to purchase items anytime and anywhere and have them delivered right to their doorstep. With e-commerce now growing rapidly, consumers will expect even greater convenience but also much of the same dependability they associate with brick and mortar shopping.
For online shoppers, convenience means that e-commerce platforms are quick, easy, and reliable. Pages load fast and transactions are completed without any technical issues. To deliver the type of dependability associated with brick and mortar shopping, online retailers will need to deliver a more personalized, immersive e-commerce experience that features much more dynamic content.
2) How can small businesses improve their online retail strategy to keep pace with Amazon?
E-commerce revenue is closely associated with speed – the faster the platform, the more revenue it brings in. Most small businesses feel like they have no hope to compete online with Amazon, which has some of the fastest e-commerce speeds in the industry, with an average desktop page load time of 2.7 seconds compared to the industry average of 4.7 seconds. These small businesses lack the capital to improve their online shopping speeds via sophisticated app development, paying for CDN services (highly distributed networks of servers that support faster delivery of content to end-users) or optimizing anything on their side of the network. As a result, they settle on selling their products through Amazon and give up a sizable chunk of their overall revenue.
But these small retailers can leverage recent innovations, such as performance bots, to achieve up to 10X faster e-commerce speeds than Amazon without spending much. Performance bots don’t require any coding or configuration changes to a retailer’s website and can be incorporated within a few hours.
3) What obstacles exist for e-commerce sites looking to succeed during the online shopping season, and what capabilities are necessary to overcome these challenges?
Amazon is always the 10,000-pound gorilla in the room. And Amazon poses an even greater threat this year than in the past. After being delayed due to the pandemic, Prime Day is expected to happen sometime in October, just one month before holiday shopping for every other retailer kicks off with Black Friday. This means a lot of traditional holiday online shopping spending will be siphoned off by Amazon right before competing retailers have a chance to make their big Black Friday and Cyber Monday push.
As mentioned above, speed is critical. For online retailers to have a chance against Amazon this year, they must improve their e-commerce speeds while minimizing other technical issues that cause transactions to stall or time out. They have to make it as quick and smooth for the customer as possible.
4) Why should online retailers care about Time to Interactive (TTI)?
TTI is a key metric for modern online retailers. While page load times tell you more broadly how fast an e-commerce platform is moving, TTI provides a more granular look. TTI measures how long it takes for the interactive elements of a page to load. For example, the “buy now” or “add to cart” buttons. These features are critical parts of any online shopping experience. A customer cannot proceed all the way through their transaction until these interactive elements have loaded and are functional.
5) How has the shift to mobile commerce introduced new challenges to online retailers?
Mobile commerce introduces a few technical challenges that generally result in slower speeds for a couple of reasons. Cellular networks, which mobile devices typically use to connect to the internet, lack the speed and reliability of wi-fi networks that desktop devices use. In addition, since mobile devices are smaller than PCs, they can’t fit in as much processing power into the devices. Both of these factors result generally in slower speeds for mobile commerce apps compared to traditional desktop-based e-commerce sites.
Also, both mobile and e-commerce commerce face “last mile” challenges. The last mile is the final phase of transmission between an end-user and a CDN, such as when shoppers get to the checkout and are prompted to confirm their order. This last mile phase is often plagued by sudden packet loss and other issues that cause transactions to slow down and potentially time out. Mobile commerce experiences last-mile problems more often because of its reliance on weaker cellular networks. Furthermore, when you’re using a wi-fi network and encounter a last-mile problem, it’s usually easy to improve your connection by simply moving your device closer to your router. This isn’t possible when using cellular networks.
6) Are there special considerations retailers must be aware of if they’re introducing video shopping to their websites?
Videos provide a potent new way to engage customers and drive greater revenue. Because of that, they’re becoming an increasingly important part of e-commerce platforms. However, videos are a form of dynamic content (as opposed to static content, such as text). Dynamic content takes longer to load than static content, and it’s also more prone to errors that cause it to fail. Retailers need to make sure their video content is loading quickly and that they’re leveraging sufficient resources to support this content so it doesn’t fail.
7) What technologies can businesses leverage to improve their online experience?
Performance bots are an easy and cost-effective way for any retailer, from Fortune 500 organizations to SMBs, to boost their online shopping experience. Whitehat bot technology has been used for a couple of years now to protect against cybersecurity threats, but the use of bots to improve website performance is new. Performance bots work by observing an e-commerce platform’s users to learn how they behave with complete precision. Once trained, the bots can anticipate user interactions on that platform, working ahead of them to request and load content before the user has to, significantly improving page load and TTI metrics.
There are a couple of other straightforward approaches businesses can take to speed up their e-commerce platforms. One, they can invest in a more advanced website and app development, which will also improve page load and TTI to provide a quicker online shopping experience. Second, they can spend more money on CDN services to get more computing resources and support faster e-commerce speeds. However, no matter how much you invest in app design or CDNs to improve your online shopping experience, you still won’t be able to match the resources and speeds of Amazon. Performance bots is the only approach that Amazon isn’t leveraging and it gives retailers a chance to actually deliver faster e-commerce platforms.
8) Where do you see the e-commerce market progressing in the coming years?
Above all, the e-commerce market is going to get bigger and bigger as consumers increasingly move from brick and mortar retail to online shopping. Beyond that, mobile commerce will also grow rapidly in popularity and eventually will eclipse traditional desktop-based e-commerce.
Furthermore, as retailers look to provide a more immersive and personalized shopping experience, they will leverage more video content, which will mean supporting more dynamic content. To meet all these increasing demands – skyrocketing online shopping, growing mobile commerce, and rising use of video and rich dynamic content – we’ll see performance bots proliferate as a means to accelerate e-commerce experiences and help retailers better compete with Amazon.
About Subbu Varadarajan
Subbu Varadarajan is the Founder and Chief Product Officer of Zycada Networks. He has nearly 20 years of deep tech industry experience, including engineering roles at Akamai, Cisco, and Alcatel-Lucent. Varadarajan is credited with creating the world’s first WhiteHat Botnet. Historically, Botnets were used by malicious hackers to breach corporate data and sabotage cloud services. Varadarajan leveraged the power of Botnet technology for helping enterprises and cloud services enhance security and improve performance. As Founder of Zycada, he harnessed that vision to develop an innovative platform employed by numerous Fortune 1000 eCommerce and streaming companies, accelerating more than 120 billion transactions to date. He has authored 20+ patents and has written several publications on network security, bot management, and performance.
Before founding Zycada, Varadarajan contributed to key patents used in the industry’s first Botwall disrupting the security industry. Varadarajan disrupted the Streaming industry by creating the world’s first HTTP-HD streaming technology. Both his inventions played a pivotal role in setting a new standard for the Streaming and Security Industry. Mr. Varadarajan has a BS in Engineering and Computer Science from Madurai Kamaraj and a MS in Computer Science at The University of Texas.
You can connect with him on Linkedin.