With Greater Connectivity, Retailers Eliminate Shopping Pain Points

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With Greater Connectivity, Retailers Eliminate Shopping Pain Points

By Ricardo Belmar, Senior Director for Enterprise Product Marketing, InfoVista - 02/06/2017
It's no secret that new technology is revolutionizing the retail landscape. For years, consumers have been taking advantage of an array of digital channels to purchase goods and services, while digital-born companies such as Amazon have become retail behemoths, largely at the expense of brick-and-mortar locations. But for all the change that has taken place over the past few years, much about how most customers shop in-store remains surprisingly similar to how buying has been done for generations.

Take long lines at checkout, for instance, which are still considered the top deterrent for buyers when shopping in-store. In a recent survey conducted by PSFK Labs, 79 percent of buyers indicated that any checkout line they perceive to have a wait time longer than seven minutes is not worth enduring to complete a transaction.

While certain shopping pain points like this still persist, digital-born and legacy retailers are learning from each other how they can utilize better connectivity and technology. Some retailers have turned to application-aware software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) technology to prioritize critical in-store applications' access to bandwidth for guest Wi-Fi traffic, store Wi-Fi fixed devices and other network functions. This is helping to eliminate old-school shopping headaches while allowing retailers to offer a more personal and digital buying experience.

An end in sight for the line at checkout
Rather than making customers come to a central checkout stall, for example, retailers need to bring the point-of-sale to the buyers. One way to accomplish this is by arming staff with wireless tablets equipped with card readers to process debit or credit transactions at any location within the store. That way, if a customer was working with a sales associate to find products and is ready to complete the sale, the associate can finalize the transaction on the spot rather than end the interaction by directing the buyer to the main checkout.

Some companies are taking this a step further by removing sales associates from the equation completely. Amazon Go, for instance, has a new shopping model that relies on sensors and advanced video analytics to automatically bill a customer for all of the items in their cart once they exit one of Amazon's brick-and-mortar locations.

In essence, Amazon has completely removed the greatest shopper pain point: the checkout process. This approach requires significant connectivity infrastructure as large amounts of data need to be processed in real-time, and such processing doesn't happen in the store but in the cloud. This kind of connectivity requires rethinking the store network architecture not just to increase total bandwidth capacity, but also how that bandwidth is assigned to applications in order to deliver the fastest performance.

This approach is bringing a number of other intuitive tech innovations to the retail landscape that will make locating and buying products a less time-consuming process, while complimentary technology such as RFID, beacons and cognitive computing will also put more demands on store network connectivity.

Seamless connectivity for in-store shoppers
Making wireless coverage available for shoppers in-store is another way retailers can deliver greater convenience to customers. However, many retailers are hesitant to open up their in-store networks to shoppers in an attempt to keep unnecessary, non-business applications from eating up business-critical bandwidth in the store network.

While keeping corporate network capacity in check is a top priority for retailers, modern consumers often rely on public WiFi so that they can use their smartphones wherever they go. In today's multichannel world, there is only so much time a shopper may be willing to spend in a store if they can't access apps on their personal devices because a store's network is walled off. Relying on 4G for this is often a poor substitute as the physical building materials for most stores reduce the effective signal to shoppers' smartphones, rendering their favorite app (including the retailer's app) unusable.

Application-aware SD-WAN management solutions allow retail network operators to keep public WiFi networks and critical connections over the corporate WAN separate but operational. By leveraging the public Internet as well as best-directing business-critical traffic over all available WAN connections, retailers can better ensure network-dependent business functionality alongside in-store customer experience.

A new spin on the age-old dressing room
In addition to the basics such as in-store WiFi and a faster checkout process, connectivity powered by an SD-WAN will also help mitigate missed opportunities in the dressing room thanks to virtual fitting rooms. These allow customers to communicate with sales associates about fit, color and other preferences so that they can assemble the perfect outfit without having to leave the stall.

Another new dressing room technology is digital mirrors, which embrace augmented reality to let consumers visualize how a piece of apparel will look without having to physically put it on. Customers can even access information from warehouses or the stock rooms of other store locations sharing the retailer's WAN to locate the right garment if it isn't immediately available – thereby minimizing fitting room abandonment rates.

With application-aware SD-WAN, retailers can properly manage critical and non-critical traffic over appropriate network connections. As such, the performance of point-of-sale applications, for example, are not compromised by novelty applications such as  digital mirrors. As a result, shoppers can complete their purchases quicker than ever before, with personalized experiences to help them along their journey. For retailers, this will open the door to repeat transactions, higher basket sizes, increased loyalty and a better perception of the brand overall.

Ricardo Belmar is senior director for enterprise product marketing for InfoVista, which provides network performance orchestration solutions for IT-intensive enterprises.

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