A customer-first approach - going where the customer is

Retailers are turning to the cloud to move at the pace that customers expect.

For retailers facing the crunch of high rentals and falling footfall today, digital transformation is not just a buzzword but a ticket into a future where they can remain relevant and connected to the customers they serve.

For many, the challenge is making the leap from legacy IT systems that can no longer move at the speed of e-commerce or support the pace at which physical retail spaces are turning into digital operations -- where retailers can better track and understand consumer habits.

Want to launch a quick e-commerce store that lets customers pick up their purchases at a location near them? The stores need to be plugged into a robust and secure inventory and sales system.

What about cybersecurity attacks? Business grinds to a halt if a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack successfully stops customers from viewing a retailer's online store. Online stores often need a more robust defense than what can be provided by an in-house team.

From offline to online

Faced with these challenges, some retailers in Singapore are diving fully into a cloud-first, mobile-first environment that brings agility, scalability and security. They believe in the value of the cloud and are leveraging its benefits.

One such retailer in Singapore is Challenger, a popular computer and electronics retailer that has earned loyal customers through its membership programmes and built strong product partnerships with major brands.

In 2018, Challenger decided to move from an offline mindset to an online one. The idea was to create an ecosystem built on a cloud platform that could boost its information gathering, ordering, fulfilment, and customer service.

That meant an overhaul of its core operational systems. Working with a managed service provider, Rackspace, it moved its point-of-sale, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and entire online marketplace systems onto the cloud.

The infrastructure had to be done right because it would be the fundamental platform on which its future business would be built.

Choosing the right partner was key, especially after the company had heard horror stories of vendors that were slow to respond to issues that cropped up from time to time.

At the same time, Challenger had to ensure that its partner had local skills and expertise in addition to the capabilities to help it scale. In less than five years, the retailer had nearly doubled its stores around Singapore, so its infrastructure needed to keep up with the changes at these outlets.

Finding the right partner

On the advice of consultancy firm Gartner, Challenger chose AWS Migration Competency partner Rackspace, which has extensive experience in managing the leading public cloud platform. Rackspace also has a strong managed services portfolio, backed by its globally renowned 'Fanatical Experience', and extensive experience in AWS migration, compliance, and security.

Rackspace offers high levels of security when moving core components, such as payment gateways, onto the cloud. This was backed up by its 24x7x365 monitoring and technical expertise, which put Challenger's management at ease from the start.

"The architect and operational teams have really provided us with valuable insights and technical advice, and they actually do the work and solve our issues," said Joshua Woon, the chief technology officer at Challenger.

Since the move, the company has been able to meet the demands of new stores. For example, lead time has been cut from 6-8 weeks to just 1-2 days.

It also enjoys a high level of security and compliance, superior to its on-site infrastructure of the past. Being on the cloud has also allowed Challenger to be fully digital.

For its IT team, the change has meant that they are able to concentrate less on on-site issues such as server patching, or hardware repairs, and replacement. Instead, they are tackling more challenging issues, such as using its new infrastructure to deliver an improved customer experience.

The future for retailers

Challenger is now in a stronger position to challenge for the consumer dollar in a competitive retail space. It can better compete against rivals from across the globe and on its home ground.

Its story is an example for other retailers seeking to transform. Central to this is how the cloud can enable brick-and-mortar businesses to transform into a hybrid of both online and offline stores that make use of data in both physical and virtual worlds.

Deciding early to go on the cloud, picking the right partner to do that with, and committing to an all-digital strategy have readied Challenger to meet future challenges.

Indeed, this is just a start. The company is looking to make full use of the cloud in the months ahead.

"We're not just going in simply to claim we're in the cloud," said Woon. "We're eager to leverage all aspects of the cloud to support our entire business. We expect the cloud will be the platform for us to grow."

Learn about Rackspace's three-phase approach to cloud migration.