Although the surge in contact-free pickup and delivery offerings has been tied to the current pandemic, it’s likely their popularity within the retail industry will remain well after the crisis passes. As such, retailers will need to figure out how to maintain these services while still keeping a tight rein on labor, operational and systems integration costs.
Achieving this is no simple task as many retailers have a common underlying problem: existing store infrastructure that can’t keep up with the pace of the business, particularly during a time of historic change. This is because the majority of retail store technology is device-based, or “thick” deployed, meaning there's a software application and operating system (OS) installed on every individual terminal or touchpoint throughout the store. Any time an update is needed, or a new store system is added, an entirely new installation of both the application and OS is required on every single device.
This approach is unsuitable for the disruptive environment that currently exists where speed to market is critical and travel is restricted. While speed of new technology deployment may be a problem, that's just the start. Online orders coupled with home delivery are another example of “must have” fulfillment options in the current environment. As retailers strive to adapt to changing buying habits, many are struggling due to the inflexibility of their legacy infrastructure. Third-party integration with the likes of UberEats, DoorDash, Go Puff and others all come with dedicated tablet devices, leaving associates to juggle multiple devices just to fulfill orders — and in disparate systems. This can lead to inefficiency, lost or delayed orders, and general confusion for front and back of house, not to mention additional hardware maintenance and cleaning requirements.
Scaling Delivery Through a Software-Defined Strategy
Retailers need a way to deliver modern shopping experiences and add new capabilities quickly, all while leveraging existing IT investments. A software-defined store strategy can provide a viable path forward for retailers. Software-defined stores use virtualization technology specifically built for the retail edge, enabling retailers to optimize the existing store IT stack and still migrate to a more open, agile and scalable infrastructure. This is achieved by breaking the connection between hardware and software, moving software and operating systems that are scattered across multiple touchpoints to a virtualized edge server inside the store. By virtualizing all these store touchpoints, retailers are free to upgrade hardware and software independently and add new technologies easier, with less cost and lower risk. This enables multiple applications to be accessed by a single device, making existing hardware multipurpose.
A centralized control console runs in the cloud to manage the in-store virtualized servers, so entire stores can be remotely monitored and maintained as a single touchpoint and new stores can be deployed faster than ever before.
A software-defined store architecture enables a retailer to move fast. For retailers using third-party delivery services, the app can be deployed on existing store hardware devices so associates only need to manage a single device. Running the point-of-sale application on a virtualized edge server means it can run over the wireless network from multiple devices, such as a mobile POS tablet with full PCI compliance.
This “less is more” approach is true for any store system. However, a virtualized store IT ecosystem helps reduce cost and improve efficiency, security and overall operations while minimizing the store IT footprint. Retailers can leverage existing investments while creating an agile infrastructure that allows them to pivot as disruptions hit and modernize stores at their own pace.
Innovating in the New Normal
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing retailers to re-assess their current operational processes, and automation is high on the agenda. Ultimately, the “new normal” of retail will be about having the flexibility to adapt quickly to an unpredictable future. This is where retailers with software-defined stores will be leapfrogging the competition. Whether it’s automating store operations, launching curbside pickup and other new fulfillment options, or adding new ways to shop in-store, speed to market is essential.
Gavin Bisdee is vice president of marketing at Zynstra, an NCR company. Zynstra is a leading software provider focused at the retail edge, to bring proven virtualization technology with centralized management to the retail industry.