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Stretched retail IT teams demand more from their networks

Research shows retail technology requirements are becoming denser and more complex, from immersive and live-streaming services to new forms of delivery and smart inventory

Against growing consumer desire for ever-more personalised brand treatment, retail companies need predictability and confidence in knowing they can flex to evolving demands, while ensuring their IT teams and networks can cope, according to a study from Aruba and global trends agency Foresight Factory.

The research focused on trends and data in the retail sector, with special attention to the impact of technology expansion and innovation, and detailed how retailers can use technology to get ahead of evolving customer demands and operational challenges over the next 12-18 months.

Against a background of constant change, the study found technology requirements for retailers are becoming denser and more complex. This has brought about the need by retailers for greater predictability and confidence in knowing they can flex to evolving demands while ensuring their IT teams won’t fall under the burden on continued digitisation.

Yet as retailers compete for wallet share, they study noted they will have to deliver flexible, tailored shopping experiences to attract new footfall and keep both online and in-store customers loyal. This will put a heavy load on IT teams to support the pace of technological change and deliver the seamless running of operations.

Aruba and Foresight Factory uncovered five ways in which the retail experience is set change in 2023, and identified the implications this will have for the IT teams and networks tasked with delivering them. The companies said the findings provide a compelling argument for a more flexible and agile network consumption model, like network-as-as-service (NaaS), to help take some of the strain off the network and IT team, allow for greater scalability, and help deliver a more business outcome-focused networking service.

Among the key findings was that retailers will bring immersive digital experiences to in-store shoppers. The study noted that as retailers fight to re-engage customers with physical spaces, they will look to invest more in technologies to deepen and differentiate the immersive experience of in-store shopping trips. It said the industry should expect AR and VR that allows shoppers to get a better feel for how products will fit into their lives before they reach the point of sale to become fully embedded in a retailer’s user experience.

Consumer expectations for on-demand, time-shifted and location-flexible delivery options are rapidly growing. This will mean, said the study, that retailers and grocers will take an increasingly hybrid approach to fulfilling orders, offering up traditional delivery services alongside dark stores, micro-fulfilment centres, grab and go “pop-ups” and on-demand couriers. It added that the use of enhanced geolocation services and even mobile stores will give retailers the chance to bring the point of sale directly to the consumer’s home or place of work.

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The report predicts that as e-commerce offers ever-more sophisticated competition, in-store spaces will be redefined to not only focus on enhanced customer satisfaction and personalisation, but also more efficient business operations. Physical stores will become more connected, with innovations such as smart fitting rooms and cashier-less exits serving to delight customers, while IoT sensor capabilities provide real-time insights to support operational savings and sustainability ambitions.

Aruba and Foresight Factor also noted the industry should expect a surge in automation and predictive technologies to help more accurately track inventory and meet consumer demands in real-time. Smart robots deployed in warehouses and distribution centres will be deployed to make operations more intelligent, shifting made-to-order retailing into the mainstream and reducing waste and excess inventory as a result.

As brands look to create the next stage of showrooming, giving customers a glimpse behind the scenes, the network-intensive live streaming of video from physical stores will become more commonplace. Delivering such experiences will help feed consumer appetite for a local touch and allow retailers to make the most of their remaining physical spaces.

“The technology requirements for retailers are becoming denser and more complex as they continue to battle for business,” said Aruba’s director of solutions and vertical marketing, Gerri Hinkel. “Vital, new and modern technology will be dependent on having the right infrastructure to support it.

“Retailers need to reconsider their network approach – looking at alternative consumption models like NaaS to ensure they not only have the agility to adapt as demands change, but are set up with a high-performing, secure, reliable and automated network that can support all this technology and leverage real-time insights to facilitate new customer-facing and smart store initiatives.”

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