Guest Column | November 27, 2018

For Retailers, Happy Holidays Means Never Having To Be Offline

By Todd Krautkremer, Cradlepoint

Holiday Keyboard

Most U.S. retailers count on nearly 70 percent of their annual sales from the last three months of the year, leaving little or no room for downtime. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday nearly upon us, it is imperative for modern retailers to stay connected to their customers, data centers, and the cloud.

In 2017, online shoppers clicked at a rate of 2,800 orders per minute, spending $1 million per minute at the peak of Black Friday, according to Shopify, an e-commerce platform provider. However, this pales in comparison to over 85 percent of all Holiday shopping was done in brick and mortar stores that year. As we head into a new Holiday shopping season, and with the most critical earnings period hanging in the balance, turning Black Friday—and the shopping days that follow—into “green” increasingly relies on the reliable and secure in-store, internet, and enterprise wide-area network (WAN) connectivity.

Here is a look at the reasons why and what retailers can do to maximize uptime and sales.

Cloud Shines Bright For Retailers

The cloud has enabled powerful new tools that help retailers improve customer experience, increase revenue, battle online and offline competition, and fight fraud. With eighty percent of customers using their mobile devices to inform their buying decisions, retailers offer free in-store WiFi to accommodate this trend. At the same time, they use WiFi for marketing purposes, such as pushing real-time coupons or offers to customers while they are in the store. Beacons and cloud-based AI applications allow retailers to know where customers are spending their time and money so they can conduct flash sales, optimize store display placement, and more predictively manage staff and inventory levels. Worldwide, retailers lose or $100 billion annually to theft and fraud – that’s approaching 2 percent of sales. In the U.S., 35 percent of these losses are attributable to external sources. In response, retailers are employing a new generation of cloud-based fraud services that use AI and crowd-sourced data to keep retailers one step ahead of the fraudsters.

Taking Retailing On The Road

Rather than waiting for customers to walk through the door or land on their website, many retailers are finding innovative ways to go to where customers live, work and play. Retailers like Best Buy and Benefit Cosmetics have deployed kiosks within airports across the U.S. to serve traveling customers better. Pop-up stores within mall spaces and at major Holiday event venues can deliver revenue that rival fixed stores. With over 25 million daily packages delivered over the Holiday shopping season, retailers are also leveraging pick-up lockers offered by Amazon, UPS and FedEx to make the online delivery process safer and more convenient.

Omnichannel Requires Omnipresence Customer Experience

We’ve all experienced retailer personalization in our online shopping experiences with surprisingly accurate recommendation engines, digital shopping tools like 3D try-on and sizing tools for clothes and immersive simulations, simplified ordering and return processes, and social proof. Increasingly customers are expecting that their online experiences carry over to other channels, like brick and mortar stores. From a retailer perspective, this means providing an omnipresent customer experience within their omni-channel model by leveraging a plethora of internet of Things (IoT) devices, like digital changing mirrors, facial recognition, digital signage, hands-on mini-showrooms, and mobile apps that can help map your online interest and activities with related in-store experiences.

Why Downtime Is Such A Downer For Retailers

In 2017, Macy’s payment processing system crashed on Black Friday leaving in-store customers to pay with cash only, since credit or debit card payment systems where offline, and online customers out of luck. While Gartner estimates that the average business with more than 1,000 employees can lose up to $300,000 for every hour of network downtime, the cost for retailers can soar into the millions. With 41 percent of network outages lasting 1 to 2 hours, it’s easy to understand why downtime is such a downer. The impact of downtime can extend well beyond the outage itself. Recent surveys show that 82 percent of retailers claim that downtime has created negative customer experiences with 1/3 acknowledging damage to their brands.

Wireless Is The Way To Pervasive And Resilient Connectivity

As is the case within a growing number of industries, retailing—whether consumer goods, durable goods, food, or services—is undergoing a digital transformation as it shifts to compete with disruptors, meet rapidly changing customer expectations, reduce rampant fraud, and offset shrinking margins. The cloud, mobile and IoT technologies are at the heart of these digital transformation initiatives, making connect-anywhere and always-on internet access and enterprise WAN connectivity essential.

4G LTE has become the solution of choice for retailers worldwide and Cradlepoint counts over 75 percent of the world's top retailers among its customers. Retailers deploy 4G LTE for WAN failover to deliver non-stop connectivity to mission-critical data center and cloud applications as well as to isolate and securely connect “store-within-a-store” deployments, and provide anywhere, anytime connectivity for pop-ups and seasonal stores.

With the rise of traffic from customers, cloud applications and connected devices, retailers are embracing Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology to cost-effectively increase bandwidth and availability by combining wired broadband and 4G LTE into a hybrid WAN connection. As the speed of wired connections climbs beyond 100Mbps, retailers should consider upgrading to gigabit-class LTE network solutions to ensure consistent performance when failing over from wired to wireless.

Not only is gigabit-class LTE capable of delivering fiber speeds over cellular wireless, but it provides retailers—that have purchased 5G ready LTE network solutions—with a pathway to 5G.

2018 is sure to be another frantic holiday shopping season. If retailers diagnose their issues and take the necessary steps to remedy these problems by maximizing uptime and sales, they’ll be sure reap the benefits for the entire season and achieve their goal of turning their Black Friday “green.”