By Hubert Da Costa, Vice President EMEA at Cradlepoint

Retail companies can spend most of the year preparing for the Christmas shopping period. Christmas is often a means for businesses to make massive financial gains in an otherwise challenging month.

This opportunity is seized by most retailers, but the high level of competition means that businesses need to invest significant time, effort, and money ensuring that everything from product delivery and marketing campaigns, to customer WiFi is executed smoothly and efficiently.

Here are seven key enterprise network necessities to help the transaction run smoothly:

Provide a connected customer experience

Retail customer expectations are expanding rapidly. Customers now walk into retail stores already informed about the products and services they’re interested in. Upon arrival, they expect to be able to use amenities such as guest WiFi to further research potential purchases. Splash pages, ads, and the collection of customer data can enhance their experience while also connecting them with information about the items they are most likely to buy.

Implement Reliable Failover Solutions

When your retail store network is down, so are profits — and morale. Christmas lines are already notoriously long and slow; having them stop altogether can be devastating on multiple fronts. Sales are lost, the staff becomes stressed, and customers lose trust in the company.

Even companies that are able to process and approve credit card purchases offline beneath a certain purchase amount, or “floor limit,” during a network outage may not have the security mechanisms necessary to keep POS info safe.Reliable failover solutions ensure the retailer can proceed with POS confidently, even amid the hustle and bustle.

Offer multi-channel opportunities

Whether customers are consciously aware of it or not, they are building a connection with your brand across multiple channels. A retailer’s relationship is no longer with just the customer; it’s also with the customer’s devices.

To maximise customer engagement, companies can build their presence via the Internet of Things (IoT), tablets, digital signage, mobile browsing, advertising, and in-the-moment metrics. Customers also add products they find in store to their digital cart and use vouchers that integrate with Facebook.

Time and money-saving features that span across multiple channels can help your retail company provide a seamless, positive customer experience throughout the holiday season.

Utilise digital signage

Christmas sales events, promotions, and product offerings can change by the hour. Digital signage allows retailers the ability to update pricing immediately throughout the store — and across hundreds of locations. Promotions and discounts can be adjusted as needed, and upselling opportunities can be presented to customers through targeted marketing techniques.

Digital signage also can assist with staff trainings, which are particularly important during a season that includes the hiring of temporary employees. Perhaps most importantly, the launch of digital signage content and campaigns can be coordinated remotely, leaving in-store staff available to interact directly with customers.

Protect company and customer data

The last thing retail stores should have to worry about on the busiest shopping period of the year is a security breach. Having reliable systems in place — as well as a means to handle the unexpected — becomes particularly important. The financial and reputational damage of a high-profile breach is difficult to overcome.

Cloud-based networks and security management solutions allow issues to be addressed remotely. Off-site IT staff can handle security problems instantly, providing immediate solutions to urgent needs. Unified Threat Management, Parallel Networking, data encryption, stateful firewalls, and event alerts can provide additional protections.

Leverage Cloud-based applications

The cloud offers more than just remote security updates and fixes. Cloud applications can help retail companies with inventory tracking, human resource management, and even customised promotions. Additionally, information on top-selling items can be tracked at the store level, provided to sales associates, and incorporated into the inventory management process.

Sales staff can talk to customers about emerging trends whilst purchasing agents are ordering additional merchandise simultaneously. Applications based in the cloud also allow for immediate, remote firmware and software updates, which frees up time for the IT team to focus on other key tasks.

Take advantage of detailed data in the supply chain

While certainly more “out of sight, out of mind” than showroom applications, one of the most important boons for retailers is IoT technology that boosts the amount of data available in the supply chain and delivery operations.

It’s becoming more and more common — and, from a budget perspective, necessary — for retailers to use detailed data to ensure they have the right mixture of products in stock, and that they’re delivered on time. Fleet telematics, GPS tracking, and RFID tags and sensors help keep the supply chain as efficient as possible during retailers’ most critical time of year.

Ultimately, if the network fails, retailers risk being left unable to process payments, unable to provide the same level of service as the competition and unable to reap the rewards of connectivity. For business looking to avoid customer frustration, ensuring stores are kept online is essential for the brand’s reputation.

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