Edge Technology: The Beating Heart of the Store of the Future
The soaring popularity of online-based retail among consumers cannot be denied, but physical retail will continue to represent the majority of sales. In fact, recent research found that physical retail will still account for 80 percent of sales globally by 2025 — an indicator that consumers still see huge value in visiting brick-and-mortar stores.
However, if physical retailers are to live up to these expectations, they need to accommodate the evolving needs of consumers and think carefully about their role in the wider marketplace.
Ultimately, retailers need to take advantage of innovative technologies in order to deliver an in-store customer experience that drives engagement and loyalty. This is backed up by research from Vista, which found that more than two-thirds (67 percent) of consumers believe retailers should be taking advantage of technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality. This will help some of the most common problems raised by consumers in-store: items being out of stock, a lack of customer service staff, and too much time spent in checkout lines. The challenge, however, lies in embracing these technologies while simultaneously delivering cost savings.
Despite the best intentions of many retailers, their existing IT infrastructures can prove to be a stumbling block when trying to create their "store of the future." Many of these infrastructures prevent the next-generation in-store experience that consumers now expect. They're very rarely optimized for new technologies and difficult to integrate to deliver personalization across both in-store and online environments. This indicates the need for a swift change in IT approach.
If stores are to flourish in the future, they require agile IT infrastructures that deliver the applications on which new services are built quickly, cost effectively and without fueling the costly hardware proliferation in some stores. The infrastructures also need to be secure, easy to support and financially viable. IT needs to deliver cost savings today, as well as a platform for innovation.
What’s required is a focus on the "retail edge" — transforming in-store technology to become cost effective, manageable and agile. This new retail edge approach enables the distributed store estate to be managed as an integrated whole — one that can run all required applications and experiences, and be deployed, upgraded, secured and supported as one entity from a central point, rather than as a collection of disparate and dedicated in-store systems with separate management and support needs.
This implies powerful, distributed and virtualized in-store technology to securely run multiple applications, peripheral hardware and more. And while this technology delivers many of the flexibility and cost benefits of traditional cloud architectures, it needs to be in-store rather than in-cloud. The dependency on cloud availability and in-built latency is simply too high a risk for retailers to deal with, particularly for point of sale and other related peripherals. At the heart of such an approach must be intelligent automation technology to enable the control and updating of IT across the entire retail estate, simplifying previously complex IT tasks and ensuring a consistent and secure IT environment.
The role of physical retail needs to be redefined through the implementation of modern, innovative technology. The answer lies in edge technology; managed, distributed and virtualized in-store solutions that enable brick-and-mortar retailers to operate with an unprecedented level of agility and flexibility.
Nick East is the CEO of Zynstra, an intelligent infrastructure for retailers that is transforming edge computing.
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