The retail industry, in particular, was forced to make a swift shift in the wake of the pandemic. A recent roundtable event hosted by Akamai revealed the drastic impact COVID-19 had on the internet.
A discussion of insights on the effect of the pandemic on the internet was the primary topic at Thursday's Akamai Edge Council Round Table. "Users' experiences have changed online," said Dan Rayburn, a content delivery network and streaming media expert, but it is an incorporation of the application of digital technologies with human experiences that cannot be changed and done in person that is critical. "We will get together again," at conferences, sporting events, live shows and more.
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"It's been pretty incredible just all the different changes that we've seen," Rayburn said. "And I don't need to tell you that." Companies, he said, learned to "really leverage what they're doing at the edge."
The pandemic introduced "whole new calls of consumers" to online transactions, said Lelah Manz, senior vice president edge product and business strategy at Akamai, who added that prior to 2020, Amazon's reach in North America was growing and it dominated commerce. However, while Amazon did experience continued growth, "We saw a larger share of commerce going to other brands, which means that they actually took advantage of the fact that these new consumers were coming online. You can see that a number of niche brands have popped up and been successful."
She cited curbside pickup as an example, "And so you've just weaved this entire experience of digital in physical together."
Personalization quickly became a hallmark of online shopping, Manz said, as sites were able to provide customers with lists of what they previously ordered. This was invaluable. Many brands, she said, "were doing a very good job."
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But she was quick to temper it with, "I feel we're only scratching the surface on what's really required to deliver these experiences at scale and in a frictionless way," citing vaccine distribution and grocery stores. Restaurants also had to find a way to continue operating, when previously, they only had gift cards offered on their sites. During the pandemic, they had to learn to present menus and marketing materials "to actually something that drove transactions and drove transactions at scale."
Business leaders had to assess and learn to plan for surges in demand and make sure they were working well with supply chain vendors, added Ari Weil, Akamai vice president of product marketing.
"If you think about centralized intelligence that people base on the footprint of business, a lot of retailers, grocers or even media publishers," and consider their view, which "is going to be constrained to their users, because that's where they're getting insight and intelligence." Weil cited Amazon at being skilled at the logistics of shipping "because they have such a pervasive view." UPS and FedEx "optimize algorithms to optimize delivery," but reminded that "it's [also] because they see so much."
New digital services and how they've emerged is another important asset to examine. Disney Plus went from zero to 100 million subscribers in 15 months.
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Weil explained Akamai's definition of "edge," and said "it's the intersection point of where a user or a device will come online to interact with content or an experience."
Safety and security will be another evolving trend. "The edge is the ideal place to apply security policy and controls because it allows that low latency, high performance, scalable experience to still be supported for the end user," Manz said.
Manz added, "the edge opens optionality. You have a service, a microservice in particular, a particular function, and you then can make the decision about the best place for that function to be processed, based on needs for scale, for latency and performance. The edge is where you want your most latency-sensitive performance actions or logic to be processed."
Like curbside pickup, many transactions will combine digital and physical, and will persist. she said, "because our habits have changed, and our expectations have changed, and it's making life simpler."
"Some of these experiences that are coming online and the sophistication of them, not only do you have to scale them, but you have to make them fast and immersive in order to keep people engaged," Manz said. "And I think that's becoming the next challenge and the challenge that we really believe that the edge is positioned to solve."
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