The pandemic created an unprecedented demand for e-commerce. This heightened need provided a backdrop for adaptive retailers to provide unique, timely and engaging digital experiences to their customers. And in a year where the e-commerce sector boomed with sales jumping $186 billion from 2019 to 2020, it was these retailers who grew most.
A prime example of these adaptive retailers is Walmart, which made headlines when it opened 42 pop-up eCommerce Distribution Centers at existing regional locations to help speed online shipments to shoppers. Similarly, Home Depot quickly adapted to the new normal with improved apps and real-time inventory tracking. Some major changes that consumers gravitated toward during the pandemic include buy online and pick up in store options, contactless payment, automated systems and accelerated technology.
As retailers continue to adapt to changes amidst even further uncertainty with COVID-19 variants, it’s imperative they have the IT backbone available to support their visions. Below are three strategies used by top retailers during the pandemic that will be key for continued success moving forward.
3 IT Strategies for Success Amidst the Pandemic:
- Don’t Underestimate Omnichannel Integration
The omnichannel retail trend is the need for efficiency in all aspects of operations. It means optimizing the supply chain, minimizing waste, and creating a memorable experience at every customer touchpoint without increasing costs – in fact, while cutting costs, if possible.
With automation and artificial intelligence (AI) going from novelty to must-haves, industry experts now expect to see at least 70% of retailers adopting AI in the next two years. Recently, Walmart reported an earnings increase of 2.8%, thanks to AI and automated processes.
- Embrace Edge Computing
To meet current and future needs of the dynamically changing retail and ecommerce market, businesses must be ready to shift and repurpose resources to meet quickly changing demands. Edge computing plays a critical role in providing reliable performance and connectivity to keep systems operational even if the network fails. Additionally, new in-store edge environments further improve the digital and in-person experience, while offering meaningful data for inventory and point-of-sale intelligence.
We have seen retailers successfully take this step, investing in robotics and IoT solutions that allowed them to reduce the number of staff in their operation, while still meeting the needs of their customers. This has created a retail experience that’s both more resilient and more immersive.
Powering and optimizing these edge environments will be a hidden differentiator for many retailers.
- Prioritize Energy Management
In addition to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, retailers have also had to deal with the adverse effects of unpredictable weather and natural disasters. These events can cause costly data center outages that can disrupt e-commerce operations. This is in addition to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, which are forcing IT managers to maintain hybrid IT and edge environments that are both geographically dispersed and may have fewer on-site IT resources.
To combat these potential struggles, it’s imperative that retailers take a smarter approach to their energy management solutions and have back up power options at all their IT environments that can prevent an outage from a sudden storm or power grid failure. Energy management should also be looked at as a cost saver. For example, smart lighting presents a great opportunity for energy savings. Because energy consumption, inventory management and the customer experience are so tightly interwoven in retail operations, optimizing one inevitably involves the other two, necessitating a holistic approach.
Reminder that Every Retailer is Different
At the end of the day, every retailer is different. No matter if you’re running a mom and pop, a small chain, or a global corporation, the omnichannel approach is a necessity right now. As we face further disruptions and an uncertain economic recovery, it’s more important now than ever to meet customers where they are, and that requires a solid IT systems backbone.
Jamie Bourassa, VP, Edge Computing at Schneider Electric