Clearly, the internet has already affected retail dramatically, by offering a limitless range of products at cheaper prices, with the convenience of shopping anywhere in the world through devices. Physical retail therefore needs to change too. The in-store experience needs to offer shoppers the same level of speed and convenience for them to buy, ensuring they keep coming back
However as long as we continue to rely on our senses, it’s likely that we’ll still want to see, hear, smell, touch and taste the products we buy. And online businesses have still not, completely, solved the issue of physically delivering products to customers when the workforce still predominantly works 9-5, and the delivery services essentially operate during the same time window. It means that the future of retail is likely to be a combination of the traditional bricks and mortar store enhanced by digital technology and interactivity.
This is resulting in an explosion in the opportunity for the use of new technologies in what has been previously a very simple environment, the shop in the high street.
IoT is improving the supply chain through smart stock control and selections based on customer preferences. Based on this, machine learnings’ predictive strengths as a technology are solving supply chain constraints, to better personalise customer experiences and improve inventory management.
WiFi & 4G data services – wireless technologies allow businesses to be much more flexible in the way they layout their stores. This can be combined with 4G data support allowing them to easily deploy popup stores to exploit additional sales opportunities. Speed to market is key here to allow businesses to get the best value out of their retail space. 4G services also provide an effective, on-demand, alternative should a circuit fail.
Location based technologies – by 2021, nearly 79% of retailers plan to be able to customise the store visit for customers, as most of them will know when a specific customer is in the store. This can then use BLE based Bluetooth Beacons to allow shops to deliver customised advertising to loyal customers mobile phones. Retailers are also piloting location technology where they use WiFi access points to triangulate the movement of their customers, and over the next four years are likely to adopt them in their main retailing operations. This will identify, for example, which aisles and products customers prefer and analyse the in-store journey. Frequently this will be integrated with Guest WiFi splash pages to collect more data about the customers. The goal is to generate concrete, actionable insights on customer shopping habits and buying patterns by tracking customers’ movements throughout a store and note where people tend to linger.
SD-WAN is a key player here as well. The data driven processing requirements in the stores means retailers are increasingly taking advantage of SaaS applications and cloud-based AI, to process and action the data. Combine this with a desire to support Guest WiFi and this requires a significantly different network model to the hub and spoke MPLS design, with centralised internet breakout, that was traditionally deployed. It makes more sense to have local internet breakout for each shop and then the remaining data that needs to go to central corporate systems is directed over smaller MPLS pipes to the central business systems. This can be significantly cheaper. Deploying SD-WAN capability in those stores allows intelligent handling of these data flows by directing traffic to the most appropriate connection as load varies and providing automatic redirecting of traffic should individual connections to the shop get interrupted.
Combining the local internet breakout, and the use of SaaS applications does create an expanded attack surface in the stores, and in the SaaS applications themselves. So, the emphasis has to be on deploying a Next-gen Security Platform that can effectively minimise the impact of this.
The availability of these disparate technologies, when deployed together is providing businesses with a clear opportunity to seize the initiative to both drive down costs and enhance the shopping experience. It is very much a fortunate coincidence of new technologies, but the challenge for businesses will be to effectively deploy all of these technologies together.
You can find out more about JT’s vision for Smart Retail at https://www.jtglobalenterprise.co.uk/smart-retail/
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