This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.
Omnichannel retail arose when customers started actively embracing digital technologies in the shopping experience. New shopping habits, like ordering online and picking up in-store, created new expectations for retailers. This pressure, in combination with a drive for growth, is making execution of an omnichannel strategy an imperative in the retail space.
Omnichannel retailing succeeds when customers can seamlessly transition from online to mobile to in-store shopping and back. Today’s customers expect strong in-store wi-fi, quick checkout for products ordered online and interaction with rich media. Expectations for integration between online and offline channels has never been higher.
The bandwidth intensive technologies being introduced at retail locations exert additional pressures on the wide area networks (WANs) that support them. The network must be considered a core component of any technology transformation to ensure the delivery of an optimal customer experience. The advent of the software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) offers a potential solution for your retail footprint. SD-WAN, which virtualises network functions, enables you to maximise bandwidth and flexibility so your in-store experience keeps customers coming back.
The fundamentals of retail never change. The goal is always to sell the most high-margin products to the best customers and get them to come back, often. The delivery of this kind of successful shopping experience, however, is evolving briskly.
To grow, retailers are seeing omnichannel retailing as the strongest strategic mandate.
A customer might see an ad online, share it with a social media circle, get feedback, go to a store to see the item and then order it online. Increasingly, consumers want to order over the web and pick up their merchandise in-store. Customer expect the experience to be seamless across all channels. This is omnichannel retailing.
The omnichannel retailing transformation affects virtually every aspect of retail operations, including IT and the network. The network is essential to creating new in-store experiences for customers, delivering on new connectivity needs for store personnel, simplifying the process of moving or opening new locations and cutting costs.
Implementing an omnichannel operational model requires you to have more agile networking infrastructure connected to Azure. You need this capability to do things like streaming video into store locations, running customer-facing mobile technologies and in-store tracking software. Other network-related features of omnichannel retail include innovations like virtual dressing rooms and video kiosks. You also need their networks to be more dynamic, efficient and secure so they can increase capacity without increasing costs.
Judy Misbin is Strategic Alliances Director (Microsoft) at CenturyLink
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