The customer journey can make or break retailers. And this is never truer than during the aftermath of the festive season and the frenzy of the January sales. The challenge for retailers is that providing a positive customer experience – which can make the difference between keeping a loyal customer or losing out to competitors – is now built on technology as much as it is on brand presence. In fact, 89% of global consumers believe having a positive digital shopping experience is just as important to their loyalty to a retailer/store as their prices, according to Riverbed’s 2019 Retail Digital Trends Survey.
What’s more, retailers have recently faced an unexpected drop of 0.1% in sales in October, representing the weakest monthly sales figure since April last year. As such, ensuring the customer experience is positive is not only important to keep customers coming back but is essential during a time when British retail is genuinely in trouble.
As the January sales begin, there is a huge opportunity for retailers to build a positive reputation with the flurry of shoppers heading through their doors. To truly take advantage of this, and remain ahead of the competition, retailers are adopting breakthrough technologies such as Cloud Computing, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help revive the retail experience. But it is not just the flashy front end that needs to be of concern. To truly open up the door to huge benefits for customers, and themselves, retailers need to ensure they also have the infrastructure in place to support these technologies.
A Fresh Approach to Retail
The days of cash filled tills and analogue Point-of-Sale (PoS) devices are long gone. Retailers are now having to compete not only with each other, but also with the seamless online experience that digital-only retailers are offering. They need to continually improve their instore experience in order to differentiate their value offering. In light of this, it is now not uncommon to walk into a high street store and see staff with digital touchpoints, supporting customers as they browse. Or in some cases, as with Amazon Go, the PoS is completely transformed from what we are traditionally used to when we shop.
However, in order to keep themselves at the forefront of the retail industry and not fall victim to creating a negative journey for their customers, IT teams must ensure they have the correct infrastructure in place to support these digital touchpoints and data-hungry applications. If they don’t, they risk being left in the dust by their competitors.
An Overarching Strategy is Key
The demise and eventual administration of Toys ‘R’ Us in 2018 is a cautionary tale. The retailer had gained a reputation for lagging behind in terms of technology adoption, with images of outdated point-of-sale equipment and tills regularly surfacing on social media. In a vain attempt to get up to speed, Toys ‘R’ Us invested in mobile digital touchpoints across their stores. However, retail analysts deemed the approach incoherent and unsubstantial to put them back on track.
If the Toys ‘R’ Us collapse proved anything, it is that technology investments cannot be made impulsively or without a broader strategy in place. Underlying every new and impressive consumer-facing technology needs to be a foundation of infrastructure which allows retailers to manage and measure their digital experience in real-time.
Welcome to the stage, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN). This scalable infrastructure offering, with embedded security, visibility and optimisation, provides a single, unified orchestration and connectivity fabric across the entire distributed enterprise network. As such, improving operational efficiency, security and agility across the network.
With the ability to elastically host applications, the cloud environment is a common go-to method for retailers, particularly during busy times like the January sales. But, getting to and from the cloud when accessing these applications can bring about a huge amount of risk for two reasons. Firstly, there is a high chance of losing control and visibility as the cloud will most likely be using the Internet for some, if not all, of the path. Secondly, it is likely that the network capacity has been increased solely for this time of the year and has not been trialled. This January, retailers simply cannot take the risk. They need to ensure everything works at all times and can sustain the bursts of increased activity that are inevitable. This is where SD-WAN comes into its own.
At the foundational level, SD-WAN allows businesses to have a flexible network that enables them to easily introduce new front-end solutions. What’s more, IT teams have the advantage of dashboards which provide them with vital insight into the condition of their networks. Having these insights is crucial as development teams prepare ahead of time for the busy season by building new applications and services in the cloud. As part of this, tests can be carried out behind the scenes, to ensure everything runs as planned before bringing it into production.
Through SD-WAN, DevOps and IT teams are equipped with the appropriate management, visibility and acceleration tools to remove risk and facilitates collaboration. When there are times of high traffic, as will be the case during the January sales, this ability to proactively monitor, access and develop the infrastructure is invaluable and will ensure the customer experience isn’t compromised.
Keeping them loyal and attracting the new
Throughout the January sales, customers are in no shortage of options when it comes to where they choose to shop. This is a real opportunity for retailers to both retain the loyalty of existing customers as well as attract new ones. With this in mind, retailers need to ensure that the experience they give them is a positive one. And while having an impressive front-end will most certainly be part of this, the true success will come from having the correct network infrastructure to support the innovative technologies implemented.
Credit: Paul Griffiths, Senior Director, Office of the CTO, Riverbed Technology.