Interactive Experiences in Retail Require Constant Connectivity
While many industry experts thought e-commerce was a death knell for brick-and-mortar retailers a few years ago, that’s no longer the case. In fact, some of the world’s largest online retailers, including Alibaba and Amazon, are testing in-store strategies, and IBM has predicted that buying locally will surpass online buying by 2018 — thanks to cloud-based systems, big data, and predictive analytics.
Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to predict which technology trends are going to stick around in the retail industry, and which ones are passing fads. One thing that is clear about where the industry is headed is that brick-and-mortar isn’t going away anytime soon. Instead, leading brands are shaping a new role for the physical store — one in which brick-and-mortar locations are a keystone of the brand’s omnichannel retail strategy. In these stores, brands create impactful interactive experiences for customers and generate greater brand affinity.
Interactive Retail Grows and Grows
The latest and greatest examples of interactive experiences indicate a shift that is sure to impact retailers’ network infrastructure needs.
Beacons Begin to Mature
While the retail industry has been abuzz with talk of beacons for a few years, leading retailers are finally implementing full-fledged beacon strategies and experimenting more creatively. For example, Target has launched a strategy that begins with minimally disruptive notifications — a maximum of two per customer per visit. However, as customers move around the store with Target’s app open, they are served a location-based stream of personalized product suggestions that incorporate online reviews, lists of items that are popular on Pinterest, and discount offers.
Pop-Up Networks Enable Interactive Advertising
Some retailers are getting very creative with their brand awareness efforts, using pop-up events as fun, interactive advertisements. For example, Reebok recently set up a speed camera and shoe-vending machine with a sign reading “Are you fast enough for the ZPump 2.0?” on a crowded street in Stockholm, challenging passersby to run past the speed camera. The vending machine unlocked and dispensed a free pair of shoes for those who were able to run fast enough.
Brick-and-Mortar Framework Expands
Recently, Staples announced it will partner with Workbar, an office-sharing company, to create workspaces inside three of Staples’ brick-and-mortar stores in an attempt to drive more traffic. Similarly, Tory Burch recently opened an interactive store/yoga studio to promote its line of sports clothing. Other retailers, such as online eyeglasses vendor Warby Parker, have opened stores where customers can try on samples, relax, read, and make purchases — but can’t walk out with product in hand. Instead, their purchases are shipped to them just as if the customers had ordered online.
Smart Fitting Rooms
A handful of brands are starting to experiment with smart mirrors, which allow customers trying on merchandise to see different sizes, styles, and colors. In some instances, they can also read reviews, check what sizes are in stock, see recommended clothing combinations, call for assistance, check out, and save their selections to review again later.
Implications for the Network
Because it’s difficult to predict which technologies will stand the test of time, a flexible, reliable, and future-proof network will be the key that allows retailers to continue innovating and changing as new industry trends emerge.
Retailers strive to remove barriers to purchase, and evolving interactive technologies are making the job even easier. We’ve written before about why network outages already are a serious problem for retailers, but constant connectivity is only growing in importance. In the future, a network outage or a slow connection will impact the customer experience to an even greater extent, causing interactive technologies to quit functioning or lose the ability to populate real-time data. The result? Many customers will choose the retailer’s competitors.
These new interactive technologies require retail systems to operate increasingly in-sync. A successful brick-and-mortar strategy will require seamless integration of systems, data, and the network. Retailers need the ability to monitor, manage, expand, and modify the entire network as a single organism.
Software-defined networking will play an even greater role for retailers, allowing them to easily meet changing or growing needs. The ability to spin up a network anywhere in the world — in moments — and dynamically manage traffic and data usage from a single remote location will make it easier and less expensive for companies to experiment with new interactive strategies, apply initiatives across locations, and quickly make changes that affect the entire network.
From a hardware and connectivity perspective, the ability to manage multiple WAN sources, easily allocate bandwidth across WAN sources, and pool cellular data all from a single console will become increasingly important.
More and more, retailers will turn to wireless 4G LTE routers to create highly engaging pop-up networks for kiosks, mobile stories, events, and interactive digital signage without having to worry about how and where to provision wired lines. Eye-catching pop-up strategies are becoming increasingly important as savvy and inundated consumers are learning to tune out and even block traditional and digital advertising. In turn, wireless WAN (WWAN) has become a critical tool for network administrators.
The scope of the network and the applications and devices it serves will continue to grow. Guest WiFi may no longer just be used for shoppers using their mobile devices — in some cases, a guest may wish to work on her laptop, download a large file or application, or stream video. A greater number of interactive and connected devices accessing the network means more network on-ramps for hackers. Prudent network segmentation will become increasingly complex. Many leading-edge retailers are turning to Parallel Networking to make sure that guests, digital signage, beacons, and other “dumb” devices stay completely separate from the networks where high-risk applications such as Point-of-Sale reside.
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