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By 4 April 2022 | Categories: feature articles

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FEATURES SPONSORED BY DELL E-SERIES 24" MONITORS FROM DCC:

By Mandy Duncan Aruba Country Manager, South Africa at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

After the pandemic triggered one of the greatest retail restructurings known to date, one thing is certain – shopping will never be the same. Over the past two years retailers have been pushed to build adaptable business models to scale in disruptive environments. From mass store closures and strict occupancy limitations, to demand challenges and global supply shortages, we have been forced to evolve.

The crisis also shone light on the importance of technology to the industry. According to the Gartner 2021 CIO Survey, nearly 75 percent of retail CIOs believe their relationships with their CEOs have been strengthened during the past year, as CIOs have helped guide their businesses through significant disruption.

As the dust settles and the industry shifts its focus towards the new normal, it’s become clear that the events of the past two years have ensured that retail has a new face. This year, capitalising on the momentum of transformational activities — especially in physical locations — will be critical to building and maintaining the flexibility that is now demanded of businesses today.

As stores continue to recover at pre-pandemic levels, an important question remains: which shopping trends will continue throughout 2022, and how can technology help meet consumers' new and evolving expectations? Here are 3 ways retailers can safeguard their position in the new normal.

Offer frictionless shopping experiences

Even pre-pandemic, consumers were heightening their expectations around speed and convenience. Now, the demand and growth of online alternatives throughout lockdowns has pushed retailers to assess their in-store offerings. Retailers are now re-strategizing their physical stores to keep pace in a digital-first world – all with an additional focus on health and safety.

Fortunately, retailers can be rest-assured that the physical store has its own unique benefits - the opportunity to provide a visual and sensory experience to customers that cannot be replicated in online retail. The brick-and-mortar is far from gone.

Retailers should strive for a blended approach, where in-store and online offerings complement each other to provide a seamless shopping experience. Retailers must continue to augment and improve their stores to better engage with customers by utilizing technologies such as click-and-go shopping, in-aisle checkout, interactive mirrors, facial-recognition purchasing and self-service checkouts.

What’s more, in-person stores can boost online experiences. KPMG reported that shoppers are more likely to buy a product they have seen in person, highlighting the need for a physical location to test these out. Moreover, research produced by the International Council of Shopping Centers demonstrates that a retailer’s online traffic to its website increases by 37% when a new store is opened in the previous quarter. The financial return of this online activity highlights the strong investment and profitability potential of brick-and-mortar stores: physical stores compliment and boost sales made by online stores. Clearly, using technology to create holistic, intuitive, and convenient shopping experiences across all platforms, both online and offline – drives sales across all channels.

Develop data driven insights

Underpinning this ability to use new technologies to improve the shopping experience is of course data. Understanding a customer’s needs, preferences and habits is key to unlocking sales opportunities. Whether looking at location data, customer data, or inventory data, this information is now considered vital to a retailer’s arsenal.

In-store cameras can be used to create heat maps of customer movements inside stores in order to analyse traffic flows. So, for example, if a retailer is selling sweaters in one corner of the store and sales are low, it can analyse traffic flow to see if placing them in another location could increase sales.

Similarly, a retailer can use location-services venue navigation to guide shoppers toward products that may be of interest to them. With geofencing and location-services messaging or using GPS and Bluetooth beacon technology, retailers can create a virtual geographic boundary and trigger a message or promotion when a mobile device enters or leaves a particular area. By controlling the path, a shopper takes in a store, and using highly targeted, context-aware advertising and marketing, there is the potential to increase basket size and therefore revenue.

Secure and stabilise the network

Although introducing new technologies and excavating data-driven insights open up vast opportunities for retailers, it also comes with a new set of challenges. Expanding the number of IoT devices that can access the network, diversifying endpoints and increasing connectivity demands poses problems for both the networks themselves and the IT staff that manage them.

Between customer service teams now working remotely, in-store store assistants, and shoppers themselves – IT are now tasked with managing spikes in network traffic across fragmented locations. This new explosion of IoT devices connecting regularly to the network means that retailers are faced with a much larger attack surface, but lack a good view of it. They must find ways to increase visibility and control – without increasing workload.

What these challenges really boil down to is the question of how retailers go about centralising management over a decentralised network of devices. One keyway to reduce IT complexity is to deploy a unified infrastructure, one that can be centrally managed via a single point of control. This allows IT teams to effectively manage a distributed network environment across microbranch, branch, and campus environments, in turn delivering a high-quality user experience using a single architecture, orchestrated from a single management console.

On top of this, advances in AI and machine learning should be used to boost network security. Zero-trust policies assume that all users and devices connecting to the network could pose threats, before authenticating them and granting them access.

It’s clear that retailers must leverage new technologies in order to create enhanced shopping experiences both in-store and offline. However, the resulting IT complexities can offset the intended benefits of adopting such technologies. Here, digital transformation is only as successful as the network holding it up.

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