Head of Secure Connectivity
We’re in the most critical period in the retailers’ annual sales cycle. It’s the golden quarter when retailers of all shapes and sizes look to capitalise on the major events during this time; Halloween, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, Boxing Day, and the coming New Year 2020 sales rush.
It’s a make or break period for the retail business calendar. Every ten minutes of downtime can result in up to $4m of lost sales for online giant Amazon. It pays to ensure your IT infrastructure is spot on, your networks prepared, and your systems up to date to carry you through the busiest period of the year.
This is where the answer could lie with Software-Defined Wide-Area Networks (SD-WAN. For retailers with multiple stores, this provides a centralised control process – known as network orchestration giving a control and configuration capability across a retailer’s entire WAN estate.
An orchestration platform system is a powerful tool for co-ordinating and maintaining retail activities where and when they matter most – at the point of sale. The benefits include; dynamically scaling bandwidth to WAN applications that need it most or leveraging additional existing connectivity such as internet and 4G without the need to send expensive engineers to site.
Modern retailers have to handle and process data like never before. It’s not just at the till, where all payments – cash or electronic – are automatically tallied. Stores now use data for order processing, shipping, sales forecasting, footfall analysis, IoT, and stock reconciliation. They also have to offer the shopper new incentives to come in-store; digital signage, for instance, to showcase the best and latest real-time deals, or Wi-Fi access to allow them to use their smart devices to access the store’s website or chat with their friends.
Then there is the omnichannel experience. As more and more shoppers turn online, a retailer’s website needs to mirror the look, feel, and branding of the brick and mortar store. The website needs to replicate the in-store offers and take payments from any device. Stock availability is flagged in real-time. Even CCTV cameras are now digital, and images stored are saved for future use and increasingly used in merchandising decision management and even powering AI apps.
There is a growing adoption of retail marketing tactics to drive footfall to stores through location-based marketing. We are also seeing marketing tools designed to help retail businesses deploy effective campaigns based on their consumers actual geographical location.
Behind it all, there needs to be an agile and sophisticated IT infrastructure to deliver it.
Some may argue that in the fiercely competitive low margin sector that is retail is, it doesn’t pay to have a large, centralised IT infrastructure and platform which is prone to rigidity and change restrictions, long lead times and a reliance on expensive IT staff.
So why SD-WAN?
SD-WAN is a versatile, cost-effective, and dynamic tool to connect hundreds, if not thousands of retail store environments. Because there is centralised homogeneity, stores can deploy and offer the same branding and merchandise deals with unprecedented levels of control, all at the push of a button. But there are also two other crucial advantages. The first is by potentially beating the mid-November to February ‘change freeze’ implemented by IT and service provider Change Advisory Board (CAB) teams. This is traditionally mandated by retail management teams to prevent any chance of disruption to the retail network during the Golden Quarter trading period.
As SD-WAN is a software overlay on an infrastructure underlay, it means retailers could take advantage of the dynamic control capability of the SD-WAN orchestration platform to seamlessly implement upgrades or changes during this period such as providing priority path selection for key application performance during busy times. If they need to implement the policy changes to take advantage of Holiday Season sales, they can do so potentially without censure.SD-WAN is at its most effective in determining real-time which is the best network route available and prioritising different types of network traffic dynamically.
It minimises the risk of downtime, either at a physical till or online, meaning it ensures the optimum quality of experience for the shopper at all times, with no expensive outages to cause people to abandon their carts – either real or virtual.
A shopper’s friend
Via the relatively fast delivery of internet and 4G connectivity, SD-WAN also provides a huge degree of flexibility and versatility for retailers to set up new sites in hours rather than weeks and even months – providing the capability for a flexible and dynamic store opening and location strategy.
It means if retail management wish to open a new Xmas ‘pop-up’ shop to support a marketing campaign or a new Santa’s grotto, they can do it with ease. Retailers can even try out new locations for stores with a simple set-up routine, with the option to set up and rip down with minimal supervision. It can also scale up (or down) according to the number of stores operating.
As we move down the digital era and stores battle to reassert themselves on the high street and online, a secure, agile network is the foundation of a happy shopping experience. Whether it’s from a mobile device in your home, or in a physical store, the shopper and overall customer experience will be more will be seamless with SD-WAN .