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Upgrading the Retail Experience - The Benefits of a Smart Stores

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Upgrading the Retail Experience - The Benefits of a Smart Stores

The retail shopping experience is always changing. Think back to the early 2010s, when paying at checkout usually required giving cash or a credit or debit card to a cashier.

Ten years later, tap-to-pay services such as Apple Pay and Google Pay are ubiquitous, as are smartphone apps that can be scanned for rewards. Self-checkout has also become much more prominent and often incorporates these mobile technologies. At many stores, customers don’t even need cards (or human interaction) anymore.

The rise of the smart store: New tech to serve customers in new ways

Going even further, some outlets have looked to transform into full-fledged “smart stores.” Let’s unpack this concept a bit further:

  • A smart store exists within an advanced technological environment, one that typically features heavy reliance on cloud computing services and high-speed networking.
  • That strong technical foundation helps support the rapid processing of store-related data (e.g., on transactions), better connections between IT systems, and real-time communications.
  • Thanks to these advantages, smart stores are both futureproof and resilient, with the infrastructure for adapting to changing customer preferences and unexpected events.

How big is the potential scope of the change from the trend toward smart stores? Consider how many retailers are moving their operations into the cloud, where the can access on-demand compute, storage, and network services, including innovations like software-defined WANs (SD-WANs).

Between 2011 and 2016, the retail industry’s total investment in cloud-based solutions nearly quadrupled to $15 billion, according to Accenture. Strong growth is expected to continue into the early 2020s. A Mordor Intelligence report forsees the expansion of cloud-supported use cases such as reporting and analytics, supply chain management, and merchandising.

The smart store in practice: How Goodwill upgraded its operations with SD-WAN

To see what a smart store looks like in the real world, let’s examine the case of Goodwill of South Jersey and Philadelphia, which implemented an SD-WAN with help from Telesystem. SD-WAN technology streamlines the management of networks, by using a virtual architecture to route and prioritize traffic as well as utilize cost-effective broadband transport.

A not-profit with approximately 1,000 employees, this Goodwill operation has been growing quickly for a while. Prior to implementing the SD-WAN solution, it was looking to shed its traditional public image as a thrift store and become more associated with the technological cutting-edge. To do so, it needed a big upgrade to its network and communications infrastructure.

It had already deployed dedicated fiber to most of its sites, and wanted to implement an SD-WAN platform to fully utilize all of its available circuits, especially broadband connectivity for backup. Goodwill was served by two ISPs. However, at most stores it wasn’t able to aggregate this bandwidth, see how it was being used or constrained at specific locations, or resolve various network-related performance issues.

Enter the SD-WAN from Telesystem, which is tailor-made for such use cases. Modern SD-WANs can:

  • Pool together broadband, 4G LTE, and satellite connectivity, in addition to (or in lieu of) conventional MPLS - perfect for creating one coherent, resilient network served by multiple ISPs and different types of transport.
  • Conduct seamless failover to backup circuits and dynamically respond to bottlenecks by rerouting critical traffic (e.g., voice and video) over the best available link.
  • Simplify management, allowing administrators to make configuration changes from a single pane of glass and roll them out across the WAN, without needing to visit each physical site.

With 25 retail stores, a constant stream of donations each year, and millions in annual sales across its New Jersey and Pennsylvania outlets, Goodwill had to ensure the ongoing viability and scalability of its operations – and its new SD-WAN delivered. Not only did it help make the network generally more reliable, but it also supported Goodwill’s particular workflows and technologies.

For example, the Goodwill South Jersey and Philadelphia stores rely on a hybrid voice over IP (VoIP) setup. VoIP is famously demanding, since it’s a real-time application that can sound unrealistic and jarring if there’s a problem with the connection. Fortunately, if there’s a failure on the main line, the SD-WAN will automatically send the VoIP call to another line, taking advantage of the aggregated bandwidth of the WAN.

This bandwidth is also available to the other essential infrastructure across Goodwill’s retail footprint, including its cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) terminals, donation interfaces, bar coding and inventory systems, and in-store streaming radio services. Upcoming projects, such as more extensive use of digital signage and Wi-Fi marketing (coming in 2020 and later) will benefit from the futureproofing possible through the SD-WAN, too. 


Wi-Fi marketing, cloud computing, and SD-WAN futureproofing in the smart store

The Wi-Fi marketing use case shows how the SD-WAN will pay dividends for Goodwill going forward and continue the transformation of its retail locations into smart stores. Wi-Fi marketing is both relatively inexpensive and highly effective at converting customers:

  • There are no dedicated apps or complicated login processes for end users to navigate. They simply connect to the in-store Wi-Fi and supply their email address or phone number.
  • Customers can then receive messages (via email or SMS) with special updates and offers. This flow of information provides an important differentiator from the online shopping experience, since it’s exclusive to brick-and-mortar sites.
  • Managing a Wi-Fi marketing landing page can cost just a few hundred dollars per year and require just a few minutes of upkeep per month.
  • Despite this low cost, it can still yield substantial benefits, as many customers see in-store Wi-Fi as a crucial service - not surprising, considering that many retail outlets have thick walls that make cellular service virtually unusable on their premises.

Goodwill’s broader use of cloud computing services, which sit behind Wi-Fi marketing platforms as well as everything from POS terminals to various software applications, also shows how SD-WAN will play a pivotal part in its operational success for years to come.

Effective use of cloud-based services requires robust network connectivity. Traditional WANs can struggle to provide that, because they may backhaul all traffic through data centers and rely on thin MPLS links. In contrast, SD-WANs can facilitate secure direct connections to cloud service providers, plus harness the ample bandwidth of affordable broadband to ensure reliable and consistent performance.

Work with the right partner to build a smarter retail experience

The Goodwill team felt that working with Telesystem went really well, as the SD-WAN implementation was both seamless and affordable. Goodwill South Jersey and Philadelphia was impressed by Telesystem sending dedicated engineers to their sites to help with installation and setup, and by how Telesystem kept recommending new ideas and technologies that could help support the stores’ operations.

Overall, building a true smart store requires combining a coherent retail and marketing strategy with the right technical infrastructure. An experienced partner such as Telesystem can provide the network, voice, and SD-WAN services necessary for making smarter retail a reality. Learn more by visiting our retail page or by contacting our team directly!


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