Guest Column | June 15, 2020

As Frictionless Retail Evolves, So Must Both Edge And Cloud Computing

By Michael Jaszczyk, GK Software

Edge Computing

If the future of retail will truly be frictionless, it will require retailers to be able to be more meticulous about when and how to leverage centralized cloud infrastructure and when to defer to decentralized edge networks in the store. While the adoption of cloud-based apps has led to unprecedented enterprise agility and intelligence, there are many retail services – old and emerging – that are better suited to operate at the edge.

Edge computing is also used as a safety net, providing offline functionality of key applications, such as processing transactions, when a network connection to the cloud unexpectedly becomes unavailable. After all, if a retailer loses the ability to sell its products, it holds no value to shoppers and they lose trust in it. But finding the right balance of cloud and edge deployments is about much more than maintaining uptime.

Take Amazon Go-style checkout, for example. Cameras in these stores produce massive amounts of data per second that an AI application must then process to determine if someone is purchasing a product and proceed accordingly. The massive bandwidth requirements make it impossible to efficiently manage through the cloud. So, this logic should be transferred to an edge server in the store.

Without the right allocation of edge computing and cloud computing, it’s harder to efficiently deploy and manage frictionless retail applications. Given that frictionless will define the next generation of the customer experience, retailers need to strike the right balance quickly and must consider the evolving balance between edge and cloud data management to truly be future proof.

Cloud Provides New In-Store Services

Cloud has taken off in popularity in recent years for two reasons. First, aggregating and hosting all enterprise data in one place allows for more robust consumer insights – no surprise there. Each store in the network benefits from its connection to others. Scale becomes a significant advantage.

The cloud also has made it much easier for retailers to offer new services and conveniences in-store that previously were impossible. For example, personalization is a result of the ability to centralize customer data from across channels and devices, process the information quickly, and reach individual shoppers with targeted communications. The only real requirement at the store level was to provide free guest Wi-Fi to guarantee mobile connectivity so that retailers could route personalized offers directly to shoppers’ phones.

Frictionless Retail At The Edge

However, not all frictionless processes are best suited for the cloud. The combined capabilities of edge computing and IoT have helped retailers make improvements to frictionless checkout, as it provides retailers the ability to process and take action on data closer to where it's actually generated — near the customer, and on a local, individual store or device level. High-speed connectivity with low latency on edge networks allows for real-time application use of new frictionless applications.

Take transaction processing, for example. Retailers need to be able to manage outages at the edge as a redundancy plan. What’s more, employees can process payments anywhere in the store on their handheld devices, eliminating the need for shoppers to wait in a line.

As retail environments offer fewer manual checks, they will rely on automation and a host of distributed applications to perform key functions such as managing accurate real-time pricing and inventory control.

Across multiple trips for each customer and the full scale of their customer base, retailers can create optimized store experiences without placing an undue burden on a centralized data infrastructure.

Cloud Computing For Big Data Analysis

As frictionless concepts continue to evolve, stores need to act as data centers to provide insights. However, this is where bandwidth can become an issue. Where edge devices are unable to collect more than local data, cloud computing can be used for large-scale analysis. Cloud computing allows for massive amounts of data storage, in which retailers can generate insights, trends, and solutions to better run their business.

What’s more, having a centralized repository for all stores where assets and data can be aggregated in one place ensures users can access it – and the tools they need – from anywhere, at any time.

Finding The Optimal Infrastructure Blend

Fortunately, as retailers look to achieve frictionless retail, they can utilize both cloud and edge computing to maximize their potential. While edge may have the benefit of speed, cloud has power and capacity, as well as security for both sensitive company and customer information. The cloud is incredibly valuable for managing everything from transactions to personalization, and the edge has immense value for ensuring consistent service.

As shoppers increasingly expect frictionless retail – whether that’s eliminating waiting in line or being able to shop on a mobile device and have the same level of personalization applied in-store – retailers must have the flexible and scalable technology to provide it.

About The Author

Michael Jaszczyk is CEO of GK Software.