How retailers are leading the digital drive
Connectivity for the retail sector
There are perhaps few sectors where having a strong digital presence is as important as the retail sector. Every year, the amount of money that is spent online grows, and consumers continually show greater comfort with offerings such as mobile shopping.
In fact, figures from the Interactive Media in Retail Group show that between January and August this year, British consumers spent some £80 billion online, up from £69.6 billion for the same period in 2015.
Therefore, having reliable connectivity is clearly a must-have for any retail business that wants to keep growing. But this is not just about online shopping. It's about keeping entire supply chains connected and being able to speak directly to customers through any channel - online or offline.
Connecting with customers
Retail has always been a sector quick to embrace the possibilities of digital for connecting with customers – after all, ecommerce has been around almost as long as the internet - but today's consumers expect a higher level of service and personalisation than ever before.
What this means for connectivity is that retailers need to provide a highly-reliable, 24/7 service across all their digital channels. This means providing as reliable a service on mobile and tablet as customers would expect on a desktop or laptop.
It also needs to extend into the contact centre. Whether customers are getting in touch via phone, email or social media, retailers need the right tools to respond in kind without delay, backed up by a fast network.
Coping with spikes in demand
One of the biggest challenges for multichannel retailers is keeping a consistent service during periods of high demand. Special time-limited promotions or recent events like Cyber Monday and Black Friday are now an essential part of retailers' strategies, and needs to be backed up by robust infrastructure.
If a business' servers can't cope with high volumes of incoming traffic, it stands to miss out on huge amounts of potential income, as customers get frustrated with slow performance and turn elsewhere. To cope with this, many companies are turning to tools such as cloud computing and hosted solutions, which can scale up on demand to give businesses the capacity they need.
This is about more than just ensuring a company’s online ordering solutions are up and running. It also helps retailers manage issues such as returns, complaints and other queries that customers may have during these busy periods.
Managing a multi-site environment
Of course, strong connectivity is not just valuable for the online space. Retailers with a high street presence also need an effective network in order to ensure that every location within their business can keep in touch with the wider organisation.
This can mean being able to communicate the latest products and offers around the company instantly, or keeping track of inventory and supply chain in real-time. Even basic administrative tasks such as filing sales reports is made much easier when backed up by a reliable, high-speed network.
What's more, having reliable internet connectivity can allow large retailers to more effectively use tools such as videoconferencing to keep store managers up-to-date and conduct company-wide training sessions, for example.
The trend of retailers blurring the line between the online and in-store shopping experiences is expected to continue further in 2017 and beyond. Over the past year brands have been working hard to combine the two, for example John Lewis offers free Wi-Fi to help consumers check prices and read product reviews while they browse – the first UK department store to do so.
Artificial intelligence and chatbots are also likely to play a key role in retail in the coming year. Over in the US, department store Macy’s is trialling a mobile companion app, which shoppers can use to get answers to questions such as where fitting rooms are located or where a particular brand can be found in store. If it proves successful, similar offerings from other retailers could be just around the corner.
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