With severe supply chain disruption and heavily depleted stock levels, this year’s peak season trading is set to be more challenging than ever for retailers. With many customers relying solely on e-commerce and others returning to brick-and-mortar stores this Christmas, post-COVID consumer behaviour is incredibly unpredictable. So, how can retailers meet their customers’ growing expectations and provide a satisfactory customer experience in the most challenging quarter?
In order to ensure an inspiring in-store experience and enable effective and efficient logistics, retailers must consider reliable, high capacity internet connectivity as a vital component of their operations. It is essential that connections are continuously available, with a fast bandwidth that enables seamless operation, with little to no risk of lagging.
From bonded solutions that supply the speedy and resilient connections that are required for effective retail operations to rapidly implemented portable wireless solutions to support temporary pop-up shops over the festive period, Nick Sacke, Head of IoT and Products, Comms365, explains how retailers can surely achieve the connectivity required to provide a positive customer retail experience.
Meeting the Needs of the Modern Day Consumer
Most consumers will be aware of the widely-discussed supply chain issues threatening Christmas this year, with many retailers encouraging shoppers to get ahead of the game. Many customers have opted to start shopping for their loved ones earlier than usual, whereas others are stock-piling festive foods to avoid disappointment. With activity both online and on the high street, there is a clear recognition of the difficulties in getting goods delivered on time.
This offers retailers the ideal opportunity to attract customers with an impressive experience; a chance to explore the latest technologies available, such as digital signage and self-service. But how many retailers are confident that they have the capacity and capabilities to deliver a positive experience during the busiest period of the year? Each of the aforementioned technologies is dependent on a good internet connection, and even a small lag in connectivity will affect efficiency and add to delays, leading to longer queues, stretched staff and deterred customers.
Major retailers are currently trialling future store concepts across the UK where there are no checkouts or staff present – customers can simply pick up the products they wish to purchase and leave the store, with the total cost automatically billed to their account. Whilst this concept is undeniably futuristic and boasts a first-class customer experience, the success will heavily depend on the internet quality within these new retail settings.
Retailers offering the more traditional in-store experience equally shouldn’t compromise elements of their offerings due to poor connection, such as choosing between processing payments or playing a Christmas playlist. This year more than ever, no independent retailer needs to make in-store trade-offs that lower the quality of the consumer experience as a result of slow, glitchy internet connections that are simply no longer fit for purpose. Especially considering the ever-increasing expectations of the modern day consumer and the fact that a poor experience will have a negative impact on the wider perception of the retailer.
Supply Chain Pressures
That is just one element of the complex retail model. With accelerating demand for online sales, the pressure on warehouses and distribution continues to increase. With the widely-discussed HGV driver shortage posing huge challenges for the retail sector in the UK, retailers are not only considering new distribution models to strengthen their operations, but are also looking to explore automation to support the staff struggling with the depleting pool.
Where possible, many retailers have increased stock levels and invested in smaller, local warehouse locations. Some have also embraced new warehouse management technologies to support the single item picking required for e-commerce fulfilment, as well as store fulfilment.
Whilst these changes and innovations are reliant on real-time communication links, this vital component of efficient logistics is often the last stumbling block to be tackled. Even if a fixed lined fibre optic connection is available, which can be rare in rural locations, it can take months to implement the service. Even then, one fibre optic connection is a single point of failure – just a small break in the connection can result in severe disruption and a huge loss of revenue for many retailers.
Rapid and Reliable
Retailers crucially need to invest in adaptable and reliable connectivity for both in the warehouse and in-store, with the capacity to meet peak demand and reduce the risk of interruption, downtime and delays. It also needs to be rapidly deployable to meet the immediate needs of the business, and this is therefore, where wireless will play an incredibly important role.
Portable wireless connectivity can be successfully deployed within a matter of days – providing stores and warehouse facilities with the capacity required to manage the challenging peak demands. But, in order to optimise reliability, businesses of each and every size need multiple connections – a single connection cannot be relied upon. By using a bonded solution that combines these connections with one another, the uptime is maintained with capacity reaching the maximum level. And when using 4G or 5G wireless connections alongside existing fixed line resources, the solution becomes strong and reliable – using wireless to enhance capacity and performance, or as a back-up when the fixed connection fails, automatically reverting back to the fixed line once the issue has been resolved.
The good news for retailers is that this technology is inherently portable, scalable and adaptable – meaning it can be deployed quickly and effectively to meet urgent needs and provide a resilient and robust solution to meet long-term business goals.
There is no denying that the retail industry and its supply chain have an unparalleled challenge this year, and that the peak trading season will be difficult to manage at all levels. But reliable, high-performance connectivity must be considered crucial for effective retail. Without total confidence in their ability to gain instant access to data and navigate the complexities of the supply chain, retailers will be unable to embrace the innovation needed to optimise the customer experience without relying on the stretched workforce, or the automation needed to improve logistics operations.
Excellent, dependable and scalable internet connectivity will undoubtedly help retailers to manage this year’s peak season, but it should also be at the centre of future business strategies and operational planning. A good connection isn’t just for Christmas, it forms the backbone of a positive customer experience all year round.