Dahwood Ahmed, Regional Director UK&I, Extreme Networks
Modern retailers are a case-in-point when it comes to blending the old with the new. To meet the needs and demands of modern consumers, a vast majority of retailers have taken on a sophisticated ‘clicks and bricks’ strategy that amalgamates two dominant retail channels: brick-and-mortar and online sales.
With hopes of recovery but also uncertainty on the horizon, now is the time for retail businesses, both in-store and online, to prepare and safeguard themselves for the opportunities and challenges ahead in order to operate effectively moving forwards. Part of this involves reflecting on how consumer habits have changed and navigating uncertainty around them, such as the supply chain crisis, to best prepare and take advantage of shopping peaks on the horizon, such as Valentine’s Day.
Here are three insights that retailers should keep in mind for their online and in-store presence to maximise profitability, service consumers as well as conduct their day-to-day operations efficiently and safely.
Focus on your supply chain
The retail sector as a whole is in a positive state of recovery. The Office of National Statistics’ retail sales figures for October 2021 indicated that retail itself was almost 10% ahead of where it was before the pandemic, and even the most affected categories, such as fashion, have almost recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
Despite this upward trend, there are still challenges for the sector to contend with, between large manufacturing delays and spikes in the demand for high street shopping and eCommerce. With shopping at some of its highest levels, there is even greater pressure on retailers to deliver.
To navigate this pressure, retailers must digitise their supply chains as well as their fulfilment and distribution centres. This is where IT network solutions can step in. For instance, many retailers are investing in high-capacity Wi-Fi to achieve reliable and seamless connectivity throughout their warehouses to enable them to use technologies, such as IoT sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) scanners. Thanks to these Wi-Fi backed technologies, operators can pick, pack and ship goods as quickly as possible. At the same time, these technologies can – and should – be used to keep customers informed about the status of their orders. Managing these expectations in real-time is a key tenet of not only securing their supply chain but delivering an excellent customer experience.
Look to extend and elevate your services
Despite the emphasis on eCommerce for some consumers, shopping will still inevitably occur in brick-and-mortar stores. According to PWC’s annual consumer survey, nearly 40% of consumers make purchases inside a physical store at least once a week, compared to just 27% who do the same online.
To help retain consumers’ confidence to visit shops, retailers need to show they are adapting. This can be achieved by providing elevated and extended services to manage and guarantee their customers’ safety, shopping convenience, and to deliver more value to their overall experience – whether it’s by offering in-store pickup, drive-through shopping, or pop-up sites.
So what does this look like in practice? While extended services will help support sales and accommodate shoppers, retailers require adaptable, flexible, and secure technologies. For the likes of in-store pickups and pop-up sites, retailers could cover outdoor environments with secure connectivity for device support and payment processing. This is crucial as buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) services and ship-from-store rely on IoT devices like scanners, tablets, and mobile phones to accurately keep track of inventory on the floor and in the backrooms of physical stores.
Leading retailers and brands have even deployed robotic carts and robust warehouse management systems in their distribution and fulfilment centres to expedite the movement of goods. Again, these advancements in warehouse automation would not be possible without high-capacity Wi-Fi to ensure reliable, seamless connectivity throughout the warehouse.
Utilise data-driven insights and analytics
Every type of business is facing a challenging new reality as they try to plan for the path ahead. In addition to keeping retailers secure, data analytics has the ability to reveal patterns in network behaviour, like traffic spikes, to identify what is and isn’t working in order to drive and inform better decision-making.
Historically, data has been many retailers’ pain point due to the lack of time, staff, and funds to track, analyse, and utilise it. This is why they need to look at deploying the right network which can allow for a historical and real-time view of data and network behaviour. Only by using reliable data will retail businesses be able to better understand consumer needs and track customer patterns over time – whether it’s online or in-store. Furthermore, network data shouldn’t have an expiration date and should offer unlimited insights so a retailer can compare trends in any timeframe.
Data-driven insights and analytics are crucial for retailers to survive. If the past almost two years have shown us anything, it is that it’s never been more important to make use of data to drive customer loyalty, trust, engagement and safety.
To continue to thrive beyond the pandemic and navigate shopping peaks at any time of year, retailers need to be agile and respond to changing consumer behaviour and uncertainty. But this task is not on individuals alone. Businesses should look to technology to provide a helping hand.