Expectation of Connectivity in Retail Drives New Network Requirements

Retail Failover

Changes in Omnichannel Retail Increase Need for Failover

After what seems like years of hype about “omnichannel” or “connected commerce” in the retail industry, we are still constantly renaming and redefining the concept. Don’t expect it to go away quietly — as it’s necessary as technology advancements continue to drive changes in the experience demanded by customers. Perhaps the most significant change is the overwhelming expectation of constant connectivity.

With this expectation, and the ever-changing customer experience, come serious changes in the network requirements to connect. The pace of change is staggering for IT teams, but I believe many of you would rather be the catalysts for change than the victims of it.

So, what must you do to meet the challenges that come with the expectation of connectivity?

Your customers and, just as importantly, your associates, have come to expect network connectivity just as much as they expect electricity when they flip on a light switch. Further, they expect the response on their devices to be essentially instantaneous. While I’m using retail as an example in this discussion, you can draw a parallel to banking, healthcare, education, and any industry where the need for information is immediate and personal.

As the Director of Store Technology for a retailer with more than 1,500 locations, the rapidly growing expectation of connectivity was like being hit between the eyes with a two-by-four. We were just beginning to celebrate the implementation of T1 lines in all stores to provide bandwidth for a new back-office touch screen system, in addition to our Point-of-Sale (POS) capability, when a completely new requirement surfaced that couldn’t be handled by the newly installed T1s. Screens for customers and tablets for associates with Internet access to the brand’s website for assisted selling capabilities were now a needed part of the store technology.

Redundancy meant always having more than one POS register per store. This new customer experience required “always on” access to information that was now a part of the customer transaction. The solution to this requirement was providing 3G/4G/LTE failover for the store.

In collaboration with Cradlepoint, a failover solution was implemented to provide the ability to immediately switch (or failover) to a wireless solution when the wired solution wasn’t available — without any need for intervention from a store associate. While this was a solution for an immediate challenge, the investment will pay dividends in the future as well.

Let’s discuss some known and potential requirements that demand an LTE failover capability.

Connectivity for the Internet of Things in Retail

The IoT is growing, regardless of the industry. Because of that growth, there will be more and more data to move to meet the needs of the new and changing customer experience. Beacons, digital signage, tablets, traffic counters, RFID, and many more applications all compete for connectivity in a store. The more essential they become to the customer experience, the less we can tolerate downtime.

Keeping the “Things” alive and well will require that device data be analyzed to provide preventive maintenance and identify failure patterns — all in hopes of recognizing potential issues before they occur. Your wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN) should be maintained as a combination of central and remote resources. Include in your network planning how to maintain all those devices to assure maximum network consistency.

Transactional Metrics ‘In the Moment’

Our rapidly changing technology will be delivering (or accessing) transactional information not after the transaction is completed — but in the moment. If properly integrated, this information will transform and enhance the customer experience.

Traditional retail metrics will no longer be acceptable. Sales, margin, and Units Per Transaction (UPT) are historical metrics. They tell us what we did or didn’t accomplish. Going forward, we will need metrics that evaluate the effectiveness of the information provided at the moment the transaction is executed.

The objective will be to provide a recommendation during the transaction to assure the UPT target is achieved. The metric required will be a measure of the effectiveness of the recommendation engine. Providing dynamic, accurate information to the customer or the sales associate during the sale should actually assure that the traditional retail metrics are being achieved.

You won’t be able to achieve in-the-moment metrics, or effectively provide information during active transactions, without a consistent, viable network that delivers when the customer or associate needs it.

Today, customers and associates drive the ubiquitous expectation of connectivity. Tomorrow it will be driven by the still-evolving data requirements of a store. Not only will there still be a need for transaction and customer relationship information, but there will also be a requirement for device management information to assure a smooth customer experience.

In my next post, we will continue our discussion of known and potential requirements that demand an LTE failover capability.

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