Rapid changes in consumer technology have created a demand for equally fast changes in retail technology. Today, there's an expectation that the instant results you receive on personal devices will be replicated in face-to-face transactions. However, retailers encounter a variety of challenges when trying to compete with e-tail (even, sometimes, with their own digital channels). Enabling consumer engagement at the right time and place, via the right channels, is key to converting retail interactions into transactions.
According to Forrester, omnichannel is quickly resetting retail customer expectations and redefining what it means to deliver seamless, fully integrated commerce. Providing a consistent and reliable brand experience across all platforms and supporting cross-channel demand and expectations are fundamental to a retailer looking to grow customer loyalty and sales. Yet with multiple retail store locations, fluctuating demand and fickle buyers, managing IT in retail isn't without its trials. The amount of people and technology that require integration make it complex.
So, how can retailers make their IT ecosystems more efficient, while maintaining simplicity, in order to meet the rising expectations of the connected consumer? Follow these three tips:
1. Monitor and automate IT to ensure tech doesn't impact customer experience. Retailers are often challenged with maintaining IT for dispersed locations, with little to no IT personnel readily available on-site. By implementing monitoring solutions and automating routine tasks through data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions, technical teams can keep a close eye on data center operations to accomplish the following:
- maintain reliability and prevent any negative impact on customer experience when infrastructure needs upgrades or new systems are put into place;
- keep customer service/sales associates on the floor rather than have them leave customers unattended to resolve operational issues; and
- with unified dashboards and monitoring solutions, technical retail teams can remotely view and control all of their physical data center locations through a single pane and collect alerts from all environments in the network (monitoring solutions at the rack or room level allows teams to keep an eye on critical equipment).
2. Implement IT consistency through standardized design. Retailers in both the physical and digital realms are often tasked with managing data centers across a variety of locations. To maintain consistency and simplify IT, it's important to implement standardized IT designs. Pre-fabricated, modular designs within data center ecosystems provide predictable performance, fast deployment, flexibility and scalability. Using a build-as-you-grow approach allows operators to add or remove modular IT elements as needed throughout the lifecycle of the data center, while pre-fabricated infrastructure enables technical retail teams to easily scale up or down based on the company's needs.
3. Simplify complex IT rollouts by partnering with expert IT. At a time when shopping options are a smartphone click away, removing or limiting complexity from any rollout, as well as choosing the right partners, will help improve the speed of retail and reduce risks to customer satisfaction in-store. Infrastructure is the backbone of the retail enterprise. From corporate and store networks to point-of-sale systems and distribution centers, uptime is critical.
A comprehensive suite of IT and data center solutions and services is necessary for supporting retail operations such as inventory management, transaction processing, marketing analytics, and workforce and supply chain management. By working with an experienced partner for data center builds, implementations and integrations, a retailer can benefit from support in the management, administration and protection of retail IT to better leverage big data and ultimately optimize sales.
New consumer expectations regarding real-time access to merchandise, order information and anytime/anywhere access to services have placed more pressure on retailers. An efficient, consistent and streamlined IT infrastructure must underpin all retail operations; however, managing an IT environment can be a lofty undertaking. Whether maintaining a large data center for a big-box retailer or a small IT closet for a SMB (Server Message Block), retailers continue to increase their reliance on access to the network to manage inventory, customer information, process transactions and more. Retailers, both in the digital and physical worlds, must optimize their IT ecosystems to allow business teams to focus on the most important part of their job — tending to the customer.
Mike Kubicki is the global enterprise senior systems engineer for Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management and automation.