How SD-WAN Solves 3 Key Retail Challenges
The past two years have been challenging in many ways for the retail industry and this uncertain new reality is understandably unsettling for many retailers. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen physical stores suffering financially because of lockdowns, and even when they were able to open, social-distancing measures were in place limiting the number of customers permitted inside, whilst fear of the virus drove others away.
The British Retail Consortium’s Shop Price Index shows an increase in physical premise cost and an overall trend of moving to shopping online. As a result, retailers need to adapt to a smarter technology that can not only support their in-store operations and ensure an excellent customer experience, guarantee secure customer payments and business data but which can also help them to enable their digital strategies, get ahead of their competition and protect them from future disruption – all of which is so crucial in these uncertain times. Many retailers are, however, embracing this challenge and using it as an opportunity to rethink the way in which they do business to ensure long-term survival and profitable growth. One such solution is through implementing a Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN).
SD-WAN offers a more flexible approach to connectivity and can potentially provide improved network performance, along with more granular visibility and cost savings compared to traditional network technologies such as MPLS. SD-WAN can also provide central orchestration and management, and along with that, network simplification. This can help Managed Service Provider’s to provide an improved service reducing the time to deploy sites (shops) and services, which can be critical for retailers, who often need to respond quickly to market requirements. As SD-WAN is an overlay technology that can be layered on top of the underlay, it can be deployed onto existing connectivity, whether that be traditional MPLS, Direct Internet or even 4G/5G. This provides retailers with real freedom of choice when it comes to procuring connectivity services. There is then further consideration to be had on whether to employee a carrier-based or managed-overlay provider approach.
Moving to the Cloud
Moving existing infrastructure to the cloud is a big part of digital transformation, it’s the heart of e-commerce platforms and allows business-critical applications to be accessed anywhere at any time. The traditional hub & spoke or MPLS networks are typically more rigid and do not provide the same flexible, performant access to cloud applications.
SD-WAN enables secure and reliable access to cloud apps, directly from the branch rather than traversing hub locations or data centers and provides retailers with secure direct access to the public cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps like Office 365.
Enhancing the in-store experience
The use of technology in-store is rapidly growing as consumers demand a far more integrated shopping experience, with the lines increasingly blurred as to what happens in a physical retail store and what happens online. It is no longer enough to simply offer products -consumers want a shopping experience; from free charging hubs, streamed TVs, smart mirrors, video, and digital signage to the scanning of codes – the pressure on retailers to make a consumer’s experience engaging and integrated as possible is a clear trend and one that shows no sign of slowing.
To fulfil customer expectations and to utilize these technologies, retailers need to fundamentally check that their networks are fit for purpose, reliable and secure. SD-WAN solves the challenge of enhancing the in-store experience by improving network uptime, performance and redundancy. It also provides the retailer with the ability to support modern technologies, and the latest cloud-based apps, whilst also prioritizing business-critical applications such as payments. SD-WAN can provide retailers with the peace of mind of not having to worry that their payment systems might be affected because of a lack of network resiliency and increased demands on bandwidth as a result of increased in-store digital features such as customer Wi-Fi or digital signage.
It is more important than ever for brands to protect their reputation as consumers expect excellent customer service each time they shop. Online review sites and social media platforms are an open source for consumers to criticize a single bad experience, no matter how big or small. Whether that be the speed of service, an issue at checkout or payment – depending on the need and ability of a competitor it could see consumers shopping elsewhere and ultimately harming the brand’s reputation.
It’s therefore crucial for retailers to build an infrastructure that is resilient and able to prevent service disruptions regardless of circuit availability. SD-WAN can provide automatic failover when a service impacting event is detected. Multiple circuits can be bonded or utilized at a single location to provide resilience and increased performance by utilizing all available bandwidth. By constantly monitoring the circuits and configuring application SLA’s, SD-WAN knows the optimal path to send business-critical traffic at any given time. We all know how frustrating it can be when the card machine doesn’t work at the till, or the webpage suddenly crashing when trying to complete a checkout online – SD-WAN can help ensure that the customer’s experience, be that in store or online, isn’t hampered by network disruption or outages.
SD-WAN is proving to be an invaluable technology, whether that be for enhancing customer experience, enabling business growth or protecting the retailer and its customers from security threats – with new and old challenges impacting the industry, it’s time for retailers to think differently.
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