Tracking Retail Technology Innovation: The Connected Future

The pace of change across the technology industry is both exciting and challenging in equal measure. The possibilities created by cutting edge tech trends such as omnichannel strategies, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning are bringing about tremendous levels of innovation.

Disruption in Retail

It can be extremely challenging for retailers to keep pace with disruptive change, largely because there is so much innovation across the industry. For example, a plethora of customer-facing solutions from magic mirrors and engagement kiosks, to merchandising technologies and enhanced POS are driving consumer interaction. Similarly, back-end insight analytics and faster checkout times with enhanced POS are making the high street shopping experience more convenient and compelling. Over the long term, retailers who embrace these advancements are poised to gain a competitive edge.

Among the biggest technology-enabled trends is a more effective use of omnichannel strategies, which are seen by many retailers as the main weapon in using their physical space to counter the existential threat posed by large online retailers. One of the keys to making omnichannel strategies productive is to leverage the inventory across warehouses and physical stores. In practical terms, emerging behind-the-scenes technologies are helping to manage inventory issues ranging from business intelligence, robots, and automated fulfillment to AI and machine learning. Each technology is designed to help retailers forecast the best omnichannel mix and effectively manage their inventory.

Across all these trends and issues, the bottom line is that retailers are connecting more people, places, and things as they deliver new customer experiences within and beyond their bricks-and-mortar stores. This surge in activity and applications designed to improve the retail customer experience will drive the need for more agile, reliable, and higher-performing wide area networks (WANs).

A Shared, Connected Future

The need for reliable, high performance connectivity is a recurring theme. Retailers are focusing on their increasing connectivity demands and are looking for innovative network solutions to power their digital strategies. As they build strategies to connect more people, places, and things to deliver the new customer experiences, they face some important challenges. For example, retailers who are using these customer-enabling technologies need to understand how to manage potential issues such as network performance, automation, and uniformity of access.

Let’s take performance as the starting point. The adoption of Gigabit-Class LTE and 5G — with bandwidth improvements of 5X and the expansion of agility and deployment options — is increasingly attractive to retailers. Many are looking to wireless WAN for primary, overflow, or failover connections to ensure bandwidth limitations aren’t preventing productivity improvements.

However, as more activity and applications are deployed across retail outlets to improve customer experience, the need for more agile, reliable, and high-performance WAN access links at every location is required. Managing and achieving customer experience uniformity in towns large and small requires uniformity of WAN access that only wireless connectivity can provide. This is also driving the adoption of advanced and Gigabit-Class LTE and 5G as the primary WAN access link. With thousands of things connected to the networks, and many data plans, retailers need to be able to manage at scale.

Central Intelligence

As omnichannel retailing advances, more intelligence is needed, and real-time data is necessary from the branch to ensure customers’ expectations are met appropriately. Retail network operators need tools to ensure uptime, visibility into the health of connections, and alerts in the event of impending issues.

With the addition of machine learning intelligence, orchestration, and automation, networks are quickly evolving to require less human involvement to deploy, operate, and optimise. 5G will extend this paradigm across the mobile network with capabilities like network slicing. As these technologies progress, the machines that make up the network will be able to learn and take over more mundane tasks. This will improve uptime, reduce human capital costs, and drive better end-user experiences.

The pace of technology innovation will continue to drive change across the retail landscape, and there are exciting times ahead for retailers and consumers alike as the tech trends battle for retail supremacy.