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03/08/2021

Next-Gen, AI-Driven Networks Can Help Retailers Stay Ahead

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The past 12 months has given retailers a lot to think about, with much attention now given to the IT infrastructure in the next wave of planning. More than ever, it is essential to maximize customer satisfaction while optimizing worker efficiencies.

The network is at the heart of this IT transition, and new AI-driven infrastructures promise to have a huge impact on retail operations as we transition to a new post-COVID era.

 A Better In-Store Shopping Experience

With the onset of the pandemic, brick-and-mortar retailers were forced to think outside of the box by implementing practices like curbside pickup, convenient delivery and innovative self-checkout. Though these practices aren’t entirely new, they have become more common and likely won’t go away even after they aren’t entirely necessary in a post-pandemic world. Customers are now used to the convenience of having their orders prepared and not standing in lines, to name an example.

The network needs to adapt to ensure that these conveniences work at scale. For example, curbside delivery and new self-checkout kiosks often require an investment in more predictable and reliable wireless networks, as well as new point-of-sale (PoS) devices.

Similarly, to entice shoppers to visit stores, retailers are personalizing shopping experiences with indoor location services. From in-store promotions to virtual concierges, these location-based applications justify a trip to the corner store, while increasing shopper satisfaction when customers are there.   

Fast and Reliable Online Shopping

As one would expect, the pandemic put a significant emphasis on online shopping. This, in turn, put a bright spotlight on many backend IT issues that have existed in retail for years. 

Companies have mere seconds to hook and close an online shopper, which means planned data center outages or slow application response times are not an option in this competitive landscape. Microservices are now key to bringing agility and resiliency to IT operations.

Similarly, as warehouses and fulfillment centers are the lifeblood of online retail companies, reliable wireless networks are required for quick order processing and shipping. In addition, indoor location applications in these environments can streamline operations and improve worker efficiencies. For example, detailed asset tracking, route optimization (i.e., optimal path selection when retrieving items) and other location-based applications provide enormous value in warehouses and fulfillment centers.

Putting the AI in Shopping Satisfaction

The above requirements aren’t new, but they have been emphasized with recent shifts in shopping behaviors. This highlights the deficiencies of traditional IT solutions, which are very reactive, manual and network-centric. 

The new retail IT infrastructure needs to adapt to changes in real time and self-drive to prevent problems before they arise. IT needs predictive insights and remote troubleshooting to save time and money by avoiding costly onsite dispatches to troubleshoot in-store problems.

IT also needs to shift their focus from the network to the people using the network. User experience is the new uptime, which means end-to-end service levels for LAN, WLAN and WAN performance are critical to delivering retail experiences that live up to business objectives.

To put it bluntly, the old IT service model is dead and is rapidly being replaced by a new AI-driven model. This is the only way to achieve the insight, automation and actions required for optimal onsite shopping experiences and reliable worker experiences in warehouses and fulfillment centers. From virtual network assistants to data collection that is used for analyzing shopping trends, AI is essential for addressing the “new norm” in retail.

Customer Experience is Key

Instead of waiting on a return to normalcy, we need to meet customers where they are now. To stand out against competitors, businesses must look toward the AI-driven network as the biggest potential for innovation, customer satisfaction and long-term success.

By investing in AI-driven networks, retailers can ease the strain on IT operations teams while, at the same time, taking their customers’ experiences to the next level.

Jeff Aaron is VP of enterprise marketing at Juniper Networks.