The challenges of remote operations and social distancing in the COVID-19 crisis has fast-tracked the need for digital transformation in retail to enhance customer service, and ultimately boost revenue. With up to 90% growth in South African consumers making purchases online during the pandemic, there’s a shift to a ‘click and mortar shopping experience’, which integrates technology with a traditional physical outlet and requires a network foundation, digital tools, and new streams of data to be analysed.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are emerging as innovative ways to drive profitable business outcomes while driving IT process efficiency.
Here are five key areas that retailers need to pay attention to if they are to deliver a successful omnichannel store experience in the future:
- Start with great Wi-Fi. As retailers introduce mobile and IoT-enabled solutions like check-out point-of-sale devices, product scanners, scan-and-go apps and digital signage, and digital-savvy customers expect a seamless network experience online or in-store, reliable connectivity is critical. Retail workers also need to be able to connect to the store network without interruption if they are to use devices in assisting customers quickly, especially when Covid-19-related capacity limits make it critical to optimise turn times of shoppers in the space.
- Get a competitive edge using IoT. IoT-enabled devices are able to deliver a multitude of new experiences and drive new efficiencies in the retail sector to stand out above competitors. With the introduction of mobile readers, sensors, and smart shelves, stores can maintain accurate inventory in retail time. Footfall sensors and location beacons can provide real-time analytics for contextual and personalised offers while supporting a safe shopping experience during the pandemic.
- Don’t guess on application performance. Connectivity is the foundation, but the applications that customers, store assistants, and warehouse staff use must also perform flawlessly. IT teams have long prioritised business-critical applications, so they perform at peak. Guest traffic is separated from retail workers’ applications, and transactions and payments are highly protected. But even with these steps to ensure optimal application performance, the user’s network experience is often hard for IT to discern until there are vocal complaints. A better way to ensure a quality network experience is by giving IT a real-time view of the end-user experience along with clear action steps to resolve any issues before a service ticket is opened.
- Spend your time on innovation, not on network management. It is rare for every store to have its own IT staff member. But it is common for IT to get bogged down in network management, rather than innovating with new digital use cases. A cloud-native, single-pane-of-glass network management solution can allow IT staff to work remotely while maintaining visibility and control over all vital network services. Cloud-managed networks enable retailers to scale back the network when the need for temporary services, such as pop-up outlets, pass, or scale up quickly as needed. Whether the site is a store, warehouse, or corporate headquarters, IT should be able to ensure a secure, high-performance network across all locations, including teleworker home offices.
- Extend indoor services to outside. With 44% of South African consumers intent on continuing to use click and collect services into the future, according to a survey by McKinsey, and contact-less trading methods ensure health and safety, many retailers need to extend their Wi-Fi outdoors without compromising connectivity to applications and devices in store. Store assistants need mobile POS systems and inventory scanning devices to help customers, while maintaining secure connectivity to payment transactions.
Aruba’s Edge Services Platform (Aruba ESP) addresses all these imperatives of the retail industry. It is the industry’s first AI-powered platform designed to automate, unify and protect the edge for businesses of any size or type.
Aruba ESP includes attributes of Unified Infrastructure, Zero‑Trust Security, AI Powered Operations (AIOps), and Flexible Consumption/Financing Models. These attributes are designed for the unique challenges facing retail, including being able to adapt quickly for unknown future use cases.
Aruba’s technology solutions provide retailers tested and proven integrations to support staff communications, electronic shelf labels, shopper analytics, real-time data and inventory management, and predictive machine maintenance.
- Mandy Duncan is Aruba Country Manager for South Africa