Comment: Cybersecurity is the key to the future of digital retail

Cybercrime is a real and serious issue for all types of businesses today, but given the nature of the data online retailers hold on their customers, this is particularly the case for the retail industry. Cybercriminals are targeting an increasingly broad mix of industries and their tactics are growing in complexity and frequency. For example, Cisco detects and prevents an average of 320 million cyber-attacks each day; a figure which has grown substantially year after year. In the hyper-connected, digitised world where a greater number of things and processes are becoming connected to the internet, it’s inevitable the likelihood of a cyber-attack is only set to increase.

Despite growing consumer awareness of the risks of cybersecurity, online sales grew 15% in the first quarter of this year, demonstrating steady growth and a continued demand from shoppers to log on and purchase the goods they desire. With the sale of smartphones and tablets also rising, it is clear continuing to invest in digital retail strategies is critical for UK retailers if they are to effectively meet the demands of today’s connected consumer.

In fact, research from Cisco and IMD reveals digital disruption is transforming businesses and industries like never before and is expected to displace 40% of incumbent businesses by 2020.

For the retail industry, the pressure is on for retailers to digitise in order to survive. As a minimum, this means continuing to stay competitive as eCommerce and mCommerce continues to transform traditional retailing.

The latest digital challenge

With Deloitte suggesting digital technology is influencing 33% of in-store retail sales in the UK, equivalent to almost £100 billion in 2015, it is clear digital retailing is continuing to evolve and the benefits in terms of enhanced customer experience, are undeniable.

Yet with all this opportunity comes the cybersecurity challenge. Today there are essentially two types of companies; those that have been hacked, and those that don’t know if they have been hacked yet. Given the fact that 60% of data is stolen within the first few hours of an attack, yet more than 50% of all attacks manage to persist on systems without detection for months, if not years, it is essential that retailers have the process in place to detect and resolve breaches as swiftly possible.

As such, preventing against cyberattacks is a real, board-level issue. Just recently, Matalan faced particular criticism over the ability of its website to counter cyberattacks, while other major retailers including Waitrose, Tesco, Debenhams and Topshop have all ranked poorly compared to other British retail companies (UpGuard, 2016).  The likelihood is we only really hear about the tip of the iceberg and the reality is a whole lot worse.

Protecting customer data – investing in the right tools

In this context, ensuring retailers have the tools they need to protect their customer data is paramount. Investing in new digital experiences to increase customer loyalty will only get you so far. The damage done if you encounter a breach in security and customer data is compromised, drastically impacts trust and in-turn, customer loyalty and a company’s bottom line. 

There is no disputing that some retailers have already learnt the hard way and probably understand better than most that security can no longer be an after-thought. It is therefore critical retailers and businesses today are on the front foot, which means adopting a holistic, integrated approach to security. Treating security as a process that addresses the entire threat spectrum - before, during and after an attack – is the only way to effectively mitigate all sources of risk. Only then will retailers be able to inspire true consumer confidence, protect against ever sophisticated cyber threats and ensure they can develop and deliver the innovation, creativity and experience their customers demand.

As the severity of high-profile hacks on retailers has proved, it's never been more vital that retailers adopt a serious and proactive approach to managing the threat of cybersecurity and put in place measures to not only protect their profits and market position, but their customers data, and ultimately a retailer’s greatest asset, trust in their brand.

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