Lessons from NRF 2020: digital transformation calls for WAN transformation

Dee Dee Pare

Trends such as omni-channel strategies, AI, and machine learning drive need for agile, reliable WAN

NOTE: This is Part 1 of our NRF 2020 Blog Series.

NRF 2020 Vision was billed as “Retail’s Big Show,” and it didn’t disappoint, with more than 40,000 people converging on New York to focus on ideas, partnerships, and experiences. It also covered the biggest retail issues and visionary trends, most notably crossing into AI, machine learning, and the use of robots for applications such as omni-channel inventory management.

It was fascinating to witness this technology innovation in action to make retail more profitable. Customer-facing solutions including magic mirrors, engagement kiosks, merchandizing technologies, and enhanced POS are driving consumer interaction, as well as back end insight analytics and faster check out times with enhanced POS. Retailers who embrace these advancements are poised to gain a competitive edge.

One great retail technology example was Microsoft’s booth, featuring its partnership with Cradlepoint to demonstrate Azure IoT Central and Cooler Screens. This combined service is an innovative way to engage customers with point-of-purchase digital displays, promotion, and merchandizing. The demo was powered by Cradlepoint NetCloud Manager, using a AER2200 router to ensure the digitally driven personalization reflected the latest promotional data at the point of customer engagement.

Among the biggest discussion topics was more effective use of omni-channel strategies, seen by many retailers as the main weapon in using their physical space to counter the existential threat posed by large online retailers, such as Amazon. One of the keys to making omni-channel strategies productive is to leverage the inventory across warehouses and physical stores. Throughout the NRF event, there were many demonstrations of behind-the-scenes technology to help manage inventory issues ranging from business intelligence, robots, and automated fulfillment to AI and machine learning. Each technology is designed to help retailers forecast the best omni-channel mix and effectively manage their inventory.

Across all these trends and issues, the bottom line is that retailers are connecting more people, places, and things as they deliver new customer experiences within and beyond their brick-and-mortar stores. This surge in activity and applications designed to improve the retail customer experience will drive the need for more agile, reliable, and higher-performing WANs.

As an exhibitor at the event, what came across loud and clear is that retailers are focusing on their increasing connectivity demands and are looking for innovative network solutions to power their digital strategies.

In the next issue of our two-party NRF 2020 series, we will discuss how the drive for agile, reliable, and high-performance WAN in retail requires a new way to think about the underlying technologies.

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