Today, brands and retailers are engaging with their customers in new ways and places. Pop-up branches at large events, temporary seasonal storefronts, and branches inside large stores allow them to extend their reach and find new customers. Similarly, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, digital signage, customer Wi-Fi, and cloud applications are helping retailers enhance the customer experience for competitive advantage.
This digital transformation is presenting high street retail with an amazing array of opportunities, but because these innovations often sit at the ‘edge’ of existing IT infrastructure and connectivity networks, they also bring a number of technology challenges.
In particular, the requirement for reliable, ‘always-on’ internet connectivity is accelerating the adoption of wireless LTE and 5G technologies and services. The speed, reliability and flexibility offered by wireless internet is enabling retailers to take advantage of these new opportunities in a rapidly changing industry. But where do the main technological challenges lie and how can they be addressed in a wireless world?
Unrelenting Internet Connectivity
For every retailer operating high street branch locations, the cost of even one hour of network downtime can be crippling. Everything from Point-of-Sale to IoT devices and operations apps need an always-on Wide Area Network (WAN).
Even a few minutes of downtime — especially during peak business hours — can have a serious impact on a company’s revenue, costs, security, and brand credibility. But with LTE-powered failover solutions, for example, traffic can be automatically sent across the wireless link as soon as the primary wired link degrades or fails. Once the wired link is restored, traffic flow returns to normal.
Given the speed of today’s Gigabit-Class LTE, which rivals that of most wired broadband services, organisations can configure most if not all applications to continue running even during failover. An LTE adapter offers seamless LTE integration into networking and SD-WAN infrastructure, protecting against network outages.
Case study: David’s Bridal
David’s Bridal, the world’s largest bridal retailer, needed to reduce network downtime in retail stores throughout multiple countries and consolidate disparate solutions to reduce laborious updates and management complexities.
The company leveraged Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service for branch continuity, delivered through purpose-built LTE adapters, which maintained a constant connection to cellular and was always ready to take over in case of a failure in the wired WAN link.
As a result, it now has a high-performance wireless overlay failover with ample flexibility and reliability. Robust cloud management capabilities allow the IT team to monitor and troubleshoot the network remotely.
Delivering Business Agility
From the first day, a retail outlet is open for business, time is money, which is why the ability to get network access immediately is so significant for retailers that open a lot of new branches. Companies need edge solutions with the agility to support and optimise multiple types of WAN links, allowing Day-1 availability for immediate business operations.
With cloud-managed all-in-one branch routers featuring embedded high-performance LTE as the primary link, IT teams can ensure Day-1 connectivity at new locations — without having to wait for a wired link. With this solution, businesses can open locations on schedule without the network holding them back. Later, once the wired connection is up and running, the organisation can use that same multi-WAN primary router to either load balance between wired and wireless links or use the wireless link for failover.
This is just as true for pop-up networks and outlets, which are increasingly important across a broad range of retail sectors. This trend is driving the need for pop-up connectivity that is secure, easy to deploy anywhere, and can be monitored and managed without sending IT professionals to each site.
Many organisations ensure reliable pop-up connectivity through cloud-managed LTE-enabled branch routers. With the ability to create secure LTE connections and make Wi-Fi available, companies have the flexibility to set up instantly, enabling high availability for important applications.
Simple & Flexible Network Management
Few companies with multiple branches place full-time IT professionals at each site, which means the ability to deploy them easily and configure, monitor, manage, and troubleshoot them remotely is essential.
In branch environments, the continued influx of IoT devices, mobile workers, cloud-based apps, direct-to-Internet traffic, and technology-expectant customers have made high availability and excellent agility — along with data security — more important than ever. As a result, organisations are looking for multi-WAN, highly automated Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) routers at the edge of the network.
Some SD-WAN routers offer built-in LTE, multi-WAN functionality, easy VPN setup, Wi-Fi, routing, and a firewall while supporting the network reliability, remote visibility and control, automation, and application performance available through software-defined networking technologies.
With the sheer quantity of network applications running in most branches, cloud monitoring and troubleshooting features — including automated alerts — provide the only way to cost-effectively manage WAN conditions at widespread locations.
The Future is Wireless
With the recent arrival of the first 5G network in the UK, wireless connectivity is about to take another enormous leap forward with even faster connectivity speeds. Retailers are going to see even greater opportunities to enhance their use of IT across their branch networks to improve the customer experience and enable the high street to operate more competitively against online rivals.
On the pathway to 5G, retailers are ideally placed to adopt today’s technologies and build a business strategy ideally suited to a future where wireless will play a pivotal role in retail sales success.
Jason Wells is Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Cradlepoint, the global leader in cloud-delivered LTE and 5G wireless network edge solutions. In his role, Wells helps organisations manage complex branch sites, data-driven vehicle fleets, mobile command centres and a vast array of IoT and M2M use cases in industries such as Retail, Healthcare, Financial Services and Transportation, as well as the public sector. Wells has two decades of experience in the global IT and network security industry, spanning Aryaka Networks, Intel Security and ClearPath Networks.