With the 2019 festive shopping season in full swing, it is becoming increasingly clear that click and collect is an important element of retail omnichannel strategies.  In some places, it is being heralded as a way to bring traditional retailers back to life, and according to research from Barclaycard, since offering Click & Collect, a third of retailers (34 per cent) have seen in-store sales increase, with almost nine in ten (87 per cent) saying Click & Collect is their fastest-growing delivery option.

Boots, Marks & Spencer and Argos are good examples of UK retailers that have integrated the Click & Collect model into their omnichannel strategies alongside wide product assortments, strong mobile shopping platforms and well-advertised Buy Online Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) offerings.  However, they are far from the only retailers executing this strategy. The UK Click & Collect market will grow by 45.8% over the next five years to a value of £9.8bn, according to research published by GlobalData.

But these Click & Collect services don’t just appear – there is a huge amount of work that goes on in the background and underlying IT infrastructure plays a major role in the successful execution of a BOPIS strategy.  For it to work, the network is critical: there must be complete fault-tolerance in supply chain, store inventory and staffing systems as well as web and mobile platforms. Central to this is networking. Since BOPIS is a customer experience offering, it also includes extending the network outside the store to mobile devices for employees and added premise security.

Specifically, there are a number of key network requirements for retail CIOs looking to enhance customer experience inside and outside the store with BOPIS and other strategies:

1. ‘Always on’ WAN Connectivity

BOPIS is a great example of the need to deeply interconnect systems across the entire organisation to deliver new customer experiences. A wide-area network (WAN) failure can bring everything to a halt, so retailers need to deploy wireless LTE failover to all stores to ensure a cut cable or flooded conduit does not bring the WAN down. 

2. Upgrade Bandwidth Everywhere

New and interconnected applications along with guest WiFi and IoT devices require more WAN bandwidth.  Many retailers have store networks that stretch beyond major cities into secondary and even tertiary towns.  While a wide array of bandwidth options exist for major cities, they quickly dwindle as you get out to medium-sized and small towns.  With the enhancements, mobile operators have made to their cellular networks – including Gigabit-Class LTE – deploying 25 to 50Mbps and even 100Mbps of primary WAN connectivity using cellular provides a universal bandwidth upgrade solution that delivers better uptime.  

3. Deploy Wide-area LANs

In today’s hyper-connected retail environment, connectivity does not end at the doorstep.  BOPIS requires extended connectivity to drive-up areas while car park surveillance and digital signage may require even more of coverage.  Even warehouses and shipping yards require more connectivity due to IoT devices that track every step of a customer’s order from the warehouse shelf to the customer’s hands.  The combination of extended reach and increased endpoints is pushing WiFi infrastructure to the breaking point in terms of deployment costs, security, and maintenance. With the availability of no-overage LTE data plans from major mobile operators and the emergence of Private LTE, retailers can leverage the scalability and security of LTE for wide-area LAN’ use cases across the enterprise. 

4. Microsegment Everything

The stories of exfiltrated PoS machine data after hackers gained access through a networked third-party vendor or device are legend.  As retailers deploy more in-store cameras for surveillance and marketing, store-within-a-store kiosks, IoT devices and guest WiFi, the security attack surface is growing substantially.  Deploying a micro-segmentation architecture across your store LAN/WAN infrastructure using software-defined perimeter (SDP), LTE for wireless isolation, and separate wireless WAN/LAN deployments by use case (i.e. kiosks) are the best ways to minimise the impact of an intrusion spreading across the network. 

5. Get on the Pathway to 5G 

One thing is for sure; you will not hear retailers say they need less bandwidth, less uptime, less customer experience innovation or less connectivity in the future.  5G is coming to the market just in time to revolutionise how and where retailers can connect with their customers. Now is the time to get on the ‘Pathway to 5G’ by implementing advanced LTE technologies, such as Gigabit-Class LTE, into your networks today and making sure your WAN is 5G Ready. 

The demise of bricks-and-mortar retailing is a recurring theme but doesn’t tell the whole story of a sector that continues to innovate with ideas such as Click & Collect.  Successful ‘etailers’ recognise the power of omnichannel strategies that combine bricks with clicks to increase store traffic, transform customer experiences and open new revenue streams.  However, with these new initiatives comes greater pressure on the network, specifically the WAN, for greater agility, availability, reach, security and capacity. Today’s LTE mobile networks and the wireless edge solutions that enable them to provide a vital capability for IT organisations to meet these needs head-on while preparing for a 5G future.