By Simon Pamplin, technical director at Silver Peak
The way in which society interacts with retailer has forever changed. Brick and mortar stores, the prime mode of retail during the last economic age, have been met with an existential threat in the form of online leviathans such as Amazon and eBay, amongst others. The current pandemic has only served to tighten the screws on brick and mortar stores and increase the need for innovative new solutions to remain relevant and stay competitive.
Although the innovation, affordability and convenience offered by online stores seems insurmountable, smart checkout technologies are levelling the playing field.
A boon to high street retail
Smart checkout technologies create a frictionless model in which customers can simply walk in and out of stores that use artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision techniques that automatically recognise and charge them for their purchases, accordingly, greatly enhancing the customer experience. The appeal of this new mode of shopping is such that Juniper predicts smart checkout transactions will reach $387 billion in 2025, up from just $2 billion in 2020.
There are numerous benefits that smart checkout technologies bring to the traditional high street. For example, if the idea is accepted that a significant portion of people enjoy the activity of ‘going out shopping,’ then the seamlessness of the smart shopping experience offers a powerful counterargument to online retailers.
Customers can glide from store to store foregoing tiresome queues and crowds of people – this is especially important now, of course, in a world redefined by coronavirus. After all, although convenient, online retailing does not offer consumers the same experience they can enjoy with friends or in making a day out of shopping.
From a business perspective, smart checkout technologies also offer a potential wealth of data from which high street retailers can pull insights and build strategies upon. Purchase data can be easily recorded and analysed offering clues towards the reasons behind footfall and overall customer demographics upon which marketing decisions can be made.
The essential role of the network
Embracing smart checkout technologies is a key step in which high street retailers can advance towards digital transformation. However, digital transformation is an all-encompassing project, and to reap its benefits, the supporting IT infrastructure must also be developed. For smart checkout technologies, the most important facilitator of success is the underlying network.
To understand why this is the case, it is important to look at what smart checkout technology is at the device-level and the strain it can place on wide area networks (WANs). Essentially, the ‘smart checkout’ system is a portfolio of technologies including beacons, radio frequency identification (RFID) – a tracking technology that involves small tags that emit distinct signals – and robotics.
By making use of multiple internet of things (IoT) devices scattered across stores that record data and communicate across the edge, a frictionless customer experience is possible.
From the perspective of the network, the edge is nothing more than the devices that people use to access the network, and the facilities that support them. The edge, therefore, might include computers, mobile devices, and in this case new point-of-sale systems, as well as the offices, branch locations, retail establishments, or any facility that a business might use to contain such equipment.
Over the years, it is an unfortunate but important lesson that many digital initiatives have failed because the underlying network has not been properly architected to keep pace with technological innovation. For example, one luxury retailer implemented a tablet programme for in-store personnel to be able to show merchandise to customers. High-end retail is almost wholly impulse purchases so the more inventory that can be shown to a customer, the larger the resulting sales. The WAN that was in place was causing the mobile application to perform poorly causing the digital initiative to have a negative effect. Instead of driving sales, the mobile initiative was chasing customers from the store. The idea was right but the poor performing WAN caused the project to fail.
The lesson here is that, in the fickle world of retail, if something does not work smoothly, and consistently, it will have a negative effect on the customer experience. If executive decision makers within retail want to take advantage of these promising smart checkout devices at scale, they must look to network technology vendors that have specific technologies that can act when network disruptions or congestion occurs.
Progressing from the traditional WAN
SD-WAN platforms, for example, with path conditioning, traffic shaping and sub-second link failover are precisely the types of technologies that can assure consistent performance and quality for all critical applications, even when an underlying link experiences congestion or an outage.
Additionally, an SD-WAN’s ability to segment traffic across the network has specific use cases for smart checkout technologies. For example, isolating credit card transaction traffic to assure both the integrity and security of this data whilst also adhering to PCI compliance mandates.
Smart checkout technologies offer a valuable tool that the brick and mortar high street can use in the pushback against online retail. However, before they can be implemented, high street retailers must advance their networking solutions, or else they may find the transformation may cause disruption instead of convenience.
Global Banking & Finance Review
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