18 Nov 2019
Cybersecurity and Mobile Purchases Top Bill at UK E-commerce Show
While the UK may be quitting the European Union, it's not yet giving up on the wider world of online sales, with exhibitors and attendees at the recent London eCommerce Expo all keen to burnish their global credentials.
Brexit notwithstanding, the recent London eCommerce Expo seemed to indicate that, for the time being at least, the UK remains open for business. It could, however, be argued that the vibrancy of the event was more a reflection of the fortitude of all things online-purchasing-related rather than any bellwether for future British business buoyancy.
Interestingly, the UK's unilateral declaration of independence from the EU didn't seem to have wholly deterred European companies from exhibiting at the event. Indeed, one of the more than 250 exhibitors at the show was Guardsquare, a business established in 2014 in Belgium, a country about as synonymous with the European Union as you are likely to find. Specialising in mobile app security, the company offers three primary software products – DexGuard (for Android applications and SDKs), iXGuard (for iOS) and ProGuard (an optimiser specifically designed for apps running Java bytecode).
Outlining the company's stock-in-trade, Inside Sales and Partner Manager Allie Gavin said: "We protect mobile apps and SDKs from reverse engineering and tampering, with security probably the biggest issue in e-commerce right now. The problem we're finding is that most app companies are prioritising user experience / performance, with security pretty much on the back-burner. Fortunately, that's where we come in.
"We're able to provide the kind of app security that doesn't compromise either the user experience or the performance. It's really what the market is now looking for. The battle to win customer loyalty is on and you're not going to have loyal customers if your app looks bad, if it runs too slowly or if its security is too easily compromised. Basically, we provide security without undermining usability."
One related trend highlighted by Gavin was that Europe in general – and the UK in particular – has been way slower than other parts of the world when it comes to embracing mobile-based e-commerce rather than its desktop PC-based counterpart. Believing that a belated and gradual shift towards mobile transactions is now finally underway, she said: "In the UK, I think everyone, at last, is moving towards mobile now. Increasingly, that's where companies connect with their customers. Industry goes where the money is and that's now, definitely, mobile. We have clients all over the world – in South America, Asia, Africa, the US and, of course, Europe – and, pretty much everywhere, it's now m-commerce that's booming."
One aspect of the e-commerce industry that's, apparently, unequivocally thriving in the UK is search marketing – at least according to Nathan Tetley, a Sales Support Executive with Virtual Leap, a Portsmouth-based digital search agency specialising in search-engine optimisations (SEO) services and pay-per-click (PPC) management. Outlining the company's USP, he said: "We used to find that our SEO team was spending about 75% of its time trawling through and analysing data and only 25% of its time actually acting upon it. Then we developed a tool that flipped that on its head. Now, with the tool running in the background, gathering data and analysing, our required evaluation period has gone right down, and we can now spend 75% of our time on implementation.
"Generally, the rise in AI and machine learning in business has become huge and now extends to every industry. It's interesting because we've actually been working with it since before it became a buzzword. Now, in our experience, it has changed from people asking: 'What is AI?' or 'What is machine learning?' to the key questions being: 'How do you use AI and machine learning?' I think, right now, we're at something of a key transition stage."
Prominent at the expo – as one might expect considering its status as lead sponsor – was UKFast, one of the country's largest e-commerce specialists. Explaining how the business had become quite so prominent in the sector, Sales Director Gary Greenall said: "We're a company that specialises in high availability, digital critical hosting for websites, applications and other online services. It's important that e-commerce websites have no downtime, while being fast and secure – and that's all part of our offer.
"For us, it's about speed and customer service and about working with the right partners, while making sure you've got the right solution for any given e-commerce requirement. It's also about people and partnerships, so we invest heavily in our staff, making sure they have all the resources they need and all the support they require."
As with many other exhibitors at the event, "security" was very much the watchword on the UKFast stand. Highlighting just why it's now of such paramount importance, Greenall said: "Security is a big focus for everyone at the moment, largely because it's a matter of when – and not if – any given business is going to become a target. Cyber-attacks are becoming ever more and more sophisticated, so it's essential that you ensure your company is protected. At the end of the day, you have to ask – if you suffer an online breach, how's that going to impact your business?
"Even a relatively successful business could vanish overnight if it has a particularly serious data breach. We're constantly getting real-time feedback from our clients and this continues to be their major concern. In response to this, we've now developed our own proprietary security system and offer a full end-to-end Payment Card Industry (PCI) approved solution, covering everything from threat monitoring to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) prevention and web application firewalls. We've got an entire security suite that doesn't only optimise your e-commerce website, but it also offers comprehensive integrated security."
Reflecting on the way the business has developed over the past two decades and how it's now having to change again to meet evolving demands, Greenall said: "The company was launched out of a back bedroom in central Manchester in 1999 and still operates out of the city today. Now, though, our UKFast campus and data centre is just on the outskirts of the city centre. In total, we have 450 staff and operate five data centres across the UK, hosting some of the country's biggest e-commerce brands.
"All of our infrastructure, service and support is UK-based, but – with Brexit just around the corner – a number of our clients are now looking to host at least part of their infrastructure outside the UK, typically in mainland Europe. In order to deliver on this, we've had to drastically expand our network infrastructure on a global basis."
The 2019 eCommerce Expo took place from 25-26 September at Olympia London.
Catherine Jones, Special Correspondent, London