Retailers are differentiating themselves by using broadband connections for everything from video surveillance to Wi-Fi hotspots.
For any business, maximizing return on investment is essential to long-term success, and that applies to investments in broadband connectivity as well. If you have acquired a broadband connection or are considering doing so, your likely objectives are to speed up credit-card transactions, obtain real-time POS reporting, and reduce your costs. Those are great goals, but don't stop there.
Leading retailers have discovered they can do even more with their broadband connections by running additional applications that enhance productivity and revenues. Four such applications are ideal choices.
n Video surveillance — By using broadband video to observe peak-hour operations, you can determine if you need to redesign your store layout (including cash register and customer line locations) to attract and accommodate more customers and thereby improve your productivity and margins. You can also reduce costs by preventing theft and challenging unwarranted lawsuits.
n IP telephony — Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems or services can also help lower costs since there's no long-distance charges for store-to-store and store-to-headquarters calling. VoIP can also minimize the number of calls personnel need to handle by enabling customers to 'press 1 for directions, press 2 for store hours, press 3 for take-out orders,' etc. IP telephony technology routes those take-out calls to a centralized call center application, which enters them directly into the POS system and into the restaurant kitchen — again, without incurring any long-distance charges.
n In-store music and ads — Rather than sending out CDs or cassettes, you can stream music and ads directly into your stores. Using the Web to make your selections, you can change the song lists and add new ads as often as you like, even deciding which stores get which content and how often it runs. Tailoring music and ads to your business can boost both customer loyalty and revenues.
n Wi-Fi hotspots — Many retailers now provide wireless Internet access for customers. This value-added service not only attracts more customers, but it also can be another vehicle for the corporate branding strategy, for example, by featuring the store logo on the opening Web page.
Class Of Service Ensures Your Vital Traffic Goes Through
Managed service providers have the technology to prioritize certain applications over others. When carrying only your credit-card transactions and POS reporting, your broadband 'pipe' seems to have unlimited capacity. However, when you add more applications, that pipe can fill up quickly, making it necessary to prioritize the ones that need to always get through. A do-it-yourself 'box' installed on your site can set priorities only for outbound traffic; if your store is on the Internet, all the traffic coming in can choke your broadband pipe before it arrives at your box.
To ensure all your traffic flows according to your priorities, a managed service provider ranks the traffic in order of importance on both ends of your pipe, outbound and inbound. Your voice traffic, which is most sensitive to disruption, gets top priority in both directions, and your credit card traffic ranks second. Video surveillance, streaming music, and other applications would be ranked lower.
Leveraging your broadband connection with additional value-added applications can boost your productivity, enhance revenues, and cut costs — but only if those applications run in a secure and priority-ranked fashion. By turning to a managed services provider to supply the applications, security, and appropriate priority ranking of each traffic type, you can maximize your broadband ROI and realize the full potential of this technology.
Greg Davis is the VP of product marketing at MegaPath.
He can be reached through the company's Web site at www.megapath.com.