No internet? No problem: how retailers can improve their customer experience even without connectivity

By Huw Owen, Head of EMEA & APJ at Couchbase. 

We live in a mobile world: a quick glance at the street or train carriage will surely reveal armies of people busy scrolling on their phones or tablets. All of them will expect a reliable connection as standard. 

Whether it’s just for thirty seconds, or five minutes, downtime cannot be tolerated, as it’s no longer just an inconvenience for the user but also for a whole host of organisations whose operations rely heavily on mobile applications.

This isn’t the only issue. When using an app, a user is relying on hundreds of exchanges of data across the internet for that to happen. If the app requires lots of data to work or if connectivity is weak, then the experience is likely to be poor. Although mobile apps are growing in sophistication and innovation, most still require access to cloud-based databases – whether it be a video streaming service, a navigational tool for driving, a portal for handling any updates to car insurance or digital banking. These apps require a strong, reliable connection just to supply the most basic functionality to the user. 

Now, organisations are beginning to realise the value of being able to store some of the data securely on the device itself. In principle, this can always enable a good user experience, even when the app is being used offline, regardless of the time or location. This might seem a complex undertaking, however many companies have already taken this step with huge success by embedding a database directly within the mobile app. The examples below offer some key lessons businesses should consider to be successful with the deployment of their own offline-ready mobile apps, complete with embedded databases. This isn’t as daunting as it might seem. 

Let’s take it offline

While enabling the operation of mobile apps regardless of connection may seem a challenge, we’ve seen many make a success of it with offline access and data synchronisation. Take retail for instance. Retailers are often presented with unreliable WiFi and poor cellular reception, so the ability to use mobile apps offline is critical. Louis Vuitton has overcome this issue by providing employees with apps on their devices that can work successfully offline. Its workers no longer need an internet connection to find out product information or stock levels for a customer and can instead use an app that directly synchronises with catalogue data instead. This has made the sales cycle more time efficient and has improved the overall customer experience, since queries can be addressed more quickly. 

Elsewhere, Ryanair has utilised an embedded database to speed up its in-app booking process by 60 percent, by allowing semi-static data to be stored locally on the customers device. The app’s embedded database means users can access their flight information instantly offline, with any changes reflected once the device encounters connectivity again. For the customer, this means an end to the days where bookings must be re-made if a device loses a connection midway through the process. 

Taken a step further, organisations can make use of offline capabilities to take advantage of a wealth of opportunities. Medical technology business SyncThink offers one such example. It has developed a platform that uses an embedded database to assess injuries to those working in demanding physical environments, such as athletes and soldiers. Doctors can identify signs of concussion in real-time with the use of the company’s eye-tracking technology, EYE-SYNC. In places like sports stadiums where maintaining a constant connection is difficult with large crowds, this is a vital tool for delivering instant, accurate results ensuring the injured person receives treatment as quickly as possible. 

Ensuring offline success

It’s important to bear in mind that these success stories are all underpinned by a high level of data agility, where each business prioritised the following requirements: 

  • Scalability – With mobile only set to grow in popularity, it’s important that organisations ensure their mobile infrastructure is future-proof, having the flexibility to cater for millions of users if needed.
  • Search – It’s essential mobile apps can easily search and access the relevant database – whether embedded or in the cloud – even when connectivity is lost. Offline apps still need to be able to deliver instant, accurate information to users, just as they would if still connected to the internet.
  • Security –It’s critical businesses asses their security practices across all devices and platforms since offline apps communicate data between the cloud, the internet, and other devices. In particular, businesses should prioritise the safe transportation and storage of data, authentication, and data access control.
  • Sync – Users expect their mobile apps to continue working efficiently even when there is poor internet access or intermittent connectivity. Peer-to-peer synchronisation is just one way for organisations to make sure devices can still talk to each other and exchange data even when connectivity is interrupted. 

Joining the dots

For most modern mobile apps, maintaining the ability to deliver at least limited functionality regardless of connection is now expected as standard. As the examples in this article suggest, it’s clear organisations across a range of sectors are already taking this on board and incorporating embedded databases within their apps that give them the ability to do just that. However, others wanting to follow their lead and do the same must invest in the right database solution which can underpin all these applications, which is secure, and which works from the core of the network to the edge.

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