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The customer is always right: Daunting demands for nifty in-store networking

The ever-evolving technological landscape continues to impact the retail sector and the customer shopping experience; a challenge that we can only expect to grow. From interactive changing rooms, to the integration of in-store augmented reality, retailers have embraced the technological revolution. With this comes the demand of increasingly high customer expectations for fast, secure and efficient in-store Wi-Fi to connect their many smart devices. However, this demand is something retailers are struggling to satisfy.

Whether it’s tweeting a picture of the latest find, browsing online for price comparisons or interacting with retailers’ touch points through their smart phone – connected customers' demand for seamless Wi-Fi has become a growing issue that retailers need to tackle. A recent study by digital marketing consultants Acuity Group indicated that 50 per cent of smartphone owners would feel more confident making a major purchase in a store with Wi-Fi access. An additional 30 per cent would be more likely to browse additional items not on their list and 20 per cent would be more likely to spend longer in the store. This goes to show that reliable and efficient Wi-Fi, which can cope with increasing pressures, is rapidly becoming a vital tool retailers should be adopting to enhance the overall customer experience.

The cost of failing to implement the correct networking solution can be detrimental to brand reputation and can even lead to losing out to competition. Just a few weeks ago, coffee shop poster boy, Starbucks, experienced a point-of-sale outage, which lasted some five hours across stores in North America. Just five years ago this would have been a relatively small inconvenience, but now with disgruntled consumers able to expel their wrath on social media sites, the stores were forced to offer free drinks as compensation. This one ‘minor’ networking failure was thought to have cost the company several millions of dollars – an avoidable cost with forethinking and planning.

However, the sheer volume of users, devices and consequential traffic, will only continue to place a heavier burden on a network. Limited resources, constrained capital budgets and geographically dispersed locations are making it increasingly difficult for retailers to efficiently manage, monitor and support such distributed Wi-Fi networks across stores.

Knowing what devices are connected to the network, and when and where the traffic congestion is, can help to identify bandwidth utilisation – a factor that shouldn’t be a guessing game. Moving forwards, retailers need to ensure their wireless networks are continuously monitored for usage in order to implement the correct measures. Access points should be placed strategically around customer hot spots to cope with the fluctuating demand of in-store Wi-Fi. This will be imperative to a retailer’s success, now and in years to come, with the number of network-connected devices expected to increase by 20 per cent over the next year .

With this in mind, finding the most cost-efficient way to deliver sustainable and flexible Wi-Fi is an obstacle many are looking to overcome. As a long term solution, some are turning to the cloud, with less costly infrastructure and no need to hire expertise to manage it. The pay-as-you-go option of some cloud-based offerings makes it a more accessible, affordable and efficient solution for retailers only wanting to pay for the capacity they use.

With the dispersed locations of retailers, a cloud-based approach to networking allows the additional costs associated with hardware installation and maintenance, to be cut. When given the ability to be controlled centrally, organisations’ entire Wi-Fi infrastructure can be managed from any location, with the need for truck rolls reduced virtually to zero. This centrally managed approach means time, cost and responsibility for maintenance is significantly reduced, leaving more time and budget to be spent on improving the customer’s in-store experience.

As customer expectations rise in their need for high quality Wi-Fi; retailers need to think ahead to an all-encompassing network solution that can cope with heavy customer traffic across multiple locations. Thus exceeding expectations by providing a reliable and resilient connection, with multiple access options. Prime focus must be on maintaining long-term customer loyalty and a cost-efficient and reliable IT infrastructure can be the facilitating solution. Retailers need to act now to implement flexible and adaptable network solutions tailored to the store and most importantly, the customer’s needs.

Tris Simmons, Senior Product Marketing Manager EMEA, NETGEAR