A winning strategy for brick-and-mortar retailers emerged this holiday season: “brick and click.” As expected, Black Friday sales for e-commerce retailers were up 20% to $7.4 billion, according to Adobe Analytics. But here is the surprise: buy-online-and-pickup-in-stores (BOPIS) is up a whopping 43%, a sign that brick-and-mortar brands are successfully blending their online businesses into a true omni-channel experience.
Walmart and Target are great examples of retailers that have perfected the “brick and click” model with integrated omni-channel strategies, wide product assortments available across channels, strong mobile shopping platforms and well-advertised BOPIS offerings. However, they are far from the only retailers executing this strategy.
Like any live-or-die business strategy, underlying IT infrastructure plays a big role in the successful execution. For “brick and clicks” to work, there must be complete fault-tolerance in supply chain, store inventory and staffing systems as well as web and mobile platforms. This includes networking. Since BOPIS is a customer experience offering, it also includes extending the network outside the store to mobile devices for employees and added premise security.
Here are five network-centric recommendations for retail CIOs looking to enhance customer experience inside and outside the store with BOPIS and other strategies:
1. Non-stop WAN Connectivity
BOPIS is a great example of the need to deeply interconnect systems across the company to deliver new customer experiences. A wide-area network (WAN) failure can bring everything to a halt. More than ever before, retailers need to deploy LTE failover to all stores to ensure a cut cable or flooded conduit does not bring the WAN down.
2. Upgrade Bandwidth Everywhere
Many new and interconnected applications along with guest WiFi and IoT devices require more WAN bandwidth. Many retailers have store networks that stretch beyond major cities into secondary and even tertiary towns. For example, my hometown of Brainerd, Minnesota (population 13,500) has a Walmart, Target, Costco, Big Lots and Kohls, just to name a few. While a wide array of bandwidth options exist for major cities, they quickly dwindle as you get out to mid-sized and small towns. With the enhancements wireless carriers have made to their cellular networks, including Gigabit-Class LTE, deploying 25 to 50Mbps and even 100Mbps of primary WAN connectivity using cellular provides a universal bandwidth upgrade solution that delivers better uptime.
3. Deploy Wide-area LANs
In today’s hyper-connected retail environment, connectivity does not end at the doorstep. BOPIS requires extended connectivity to drive-up areas while parking lot surveillance and digital signage may require acres of coverage. Even warehouses and shipping yards require more connectivity due to IoT devices that track every step of a customer’s order from the warehouse shelf to the customer’s vehicle. The combination of extended reach and increased endpoints is pushing WiFi infrastructure to the breaking point in terms of deployment costs, security, and maintenance. With the availability of no-overage LTE data plans from major wireless carriers and the emergence of Private LTE, retailers can leverage the scalability and security of LTE for “wide-area LAN” use cases across the enterprise.
4. Microsegment Everything
The stories of exfiltrated PoS machine data after hackers gained access through a networked third-party vendor or device are legend. As retailers deploy more in-store cameras for surveillance and marketing, store-within-a-store kiosks, IoT devices and guest WiFi, the attack surface is growing substantially. Deploying a micro-segmentation architecture across your store LAN/WAN infrastructure using software-defined perimeter (SDP), LTE for wireless isolation, and separate wireless WAN/LAN deployments by use case (i.e. kiosks) are the best ways to minimize the impact of an intrusion spreading across the network.
5. Get on the Pathway to 5G
One thing is for sure; you will not hear retailers say they need less bandwidth, less uptime, less customer experience innovation or less connectivity in the future. 5G is coming to the market just in time to revolutionize how and where retailers can connect with their customers. Now is the time to get on the “Pathway to 5G” by implementing advanced LTE technologies, such as Gigabit-Class LTE, into your networks today and making sure your WAN is 5G Ready.
The demise of brick-and-mortar retailing has been way overblown. Innovative retailers recognize the power of omni-channel strategies that combine bricks with clicks to increase store traffic, transform customer experiences and open new revenue streams. However, with these new initiatives comes greater pressure on the network, specifically the WAN, for greater agility, availability, reach, security and capacity. Today’s LTE cellular networks and the wireless edge solutions that enable them provide a vital capability for IT organizations to meet these needs head on while preparing for a 5G future.