“Sorry, the computers are slow today.” It’s the bane of retail sales reps and shoppers alike, but a sluggish network hinders sales and service all too frequently, making it hard to keep existing customers, and attract new ones. Managers struggle with the challenge of inadequate technology, which makes them less effective at delivering a consistent and pleasing customer experience. But a new network technology, SD-WAN, stands to change that, and it is likely to help more than a few retailers this year to make the holiday season happy for everyone.
It’s important to keep in mind, the impact of the network isn’t simply about transaction speed. Today’s retailers also know the value of offering multiple integrated channels for customers, referred to-date as omni-channel commerce – and more recently unified commerce – which makes it easy for customers to browse and buy products. Here again, SD-WAN has the potential to make a big difference.
According to RetailNext, although 94% of retail sales are generated by brick-and-mortar stores, roughly half of those shoppers are also “showrooming,” visiting the store to see, touch or try a product, but with the intent on making the actual purchase online, usually for a lower price. While they’re in the store, two-thirds of shoppers use their mobile devices to check prices online before making a purchase. Which, with the right network, can still give the store a chance to capture that customer live and in-person.
The hidden power of the store network
Customers today expect multi-platform shopping – browsing sale racks in-store, accessing the Internet directly using in-store WiFi, checking store prices online – and retailers with the ability to offer a seamless, cohesive experience reap the benefits in higher average sales per customer. Brick-and-mortar retailers are also increasingly using bandwidth-hungry technology to attract customers, such as digital signage, streamed entertainment, and electronic point-of-purchase (POP) displays, and to provide more customer service options, such as the use of virtual assistance for those who prefer DIY.
This type of digital-heavy, mobile first shopping experience requires a fast, reliable and secure network and in-store internet connection, which can both be made easier and more cost-effective with the use of SD-WAN technology. SD-WAN (short for software-defined wide area network) lets a retailer centrally manage multiple network connections – MPLS, broadband Internet and wireless/LTE – and dynamically steer application traffic across those connections based on application prioritization outlined in predefined routing policies.
This gives network managers the ability to make sure critical and/or latency sensitive applications have access to the bandwidth required and the best-performing connections based on current traffic congestion and conditions. This benefits the store and the shoppers all at the same time. So everyone wins.
The network that practically says, bring the holidays on!
To prevent sudden spikes in traffic during busy periods from causing a slowdown that might threaten the business by dragging down critical customer facing apps, SD-WAN offers network visibility with actionable analytics, and the ability to control the network to get the best possible performance network wide. In addition, SD-WAN can steer traffic over the best performing network connection to ensure your high priority and latency sensitive apps are always available to deliver the best customer experience.
If circumstances require you to add bandwidth at an existing site during such a busy time of the year, it is good to know that can be done quickly and easily, due primarily to the availability and scalability of adding broadband circuits vs. what is required for MPLS.
The bottom line is, SD-WAN has the ability to ensure that point-of-sale systems, in-store kiosks, guest WiFi, in-store entertainment and the like are always available, even at peak usage periods during flash sales and on Black Friday.
That said, here’s wishing you and yours an SD-WAN powered, in the black, kind of holiday season! Do shoot us a note and let us know how it goes and share your thoughts on how your network may/may not have helped.
– Eric P. Hyman
To learn more about how SD-WAN can have a positive impact on retail, watch Optimize Cloud-Based Application Performance with SD-WAN to see how one innovative retailer used SD-WAN to optimize their applications and network. And to transform IT, their customer experience and their business.