Why modern network infrastructure can give high street stores an edge over online retailers

By Patrick Groot-Nuelend, EMEA Solutions Architect, Extreme Networks

The retail landscape has evolved rapidly in recent years. Brick-and-mortar retailers face stiff competition as customers embrace the world of online shopping. Over the past year department stores have seen a decrease in sales while online spend has increased, suggesting that online stores will continue to challenge the high street. Forward-thinking retailers have discovered smart technologies as a way to differentiate themselves, elevate the shopping experience and, once again, become more attractive to modern consumers.

One commonly-quoted advantage of online shopping is the convenience of ordering items from any location, at any time. However, what e-commerce cannot provide consumers with is the instant gratification of buying something and being able to immediately take it home. Technologies like smart mirrors that allow shoppers to try on clothes without physically getting changed can further augment the in-store retail experience for consumers and offer an additional incentive to return. These physical interactions with customers differentiate the modern high street from its online counterpart and present a unique opportunity to add value to today’s consumers.

Additionally, advanced in-store technologies can offer retailers valuable insights into consumer behaviour. Free Wi-Fi, location services, smart labels and RFID tags can capture and provide data that helps paint a picture of what customers are interested in buying, how they interact with the shop and where else they might be looking. More advanced systems can even automate certain store functions to further increase customer convenience. Harnessing this information allows for individualised, meaningful interactions with the customer that online shopping just can’t offer.

However, successfully modernising the retail experience requires smart choices in both the customer-facing technologies and the supporting infrastructure running in the background, with the latter often being overlooked. To make use of all these advanced technologies retailers need to invest in a powerful network that fuels them.

Wireless networks are now a given in any store, both to satisfy customers but also to support essential operational tools. Beacons, location services, employees with tablets, inventory management software, and Point-of-Sales software are all reliant on network connectivity to work properly. Not only do these networks need to offer high speeds and reliability, they also need to be secure enough to protect customer and corporate data.

Designing a network that can meet all these challenges is as important as designing the layout and appearance of the shop itself. Just as a slow website discourages online shoppers, new in-store technologies need to operate flawlessly to win over customers. By adopting a holistic approach to implementing new technological infrastructure that includes a robust, resilient and flexible network as its foundation, retailers will be able to regain their competitive edge against online shopping. For a sector in flux, smart investments in network and retail technologies are necessary to overcome the current challenges posed by online stores.

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