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Four technology infrastructure trends that are at the heart of retail in 2021

communication technology
(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

With the government enforcing the closures of non-essential stores throughout 2020, the retail industry was in the midst of significant and unprecedented change. Evolving consumer behaviors are now pivotal to helping the high street return to its former glory, leaving many retailers grappling with how to meet their digitally-driven demands and steer growth in the future. Technology has a huge part to play in this development, with retail businesses considering new infrastructures to help save the day.

With a high number of customers returning in-store, retailers are battling the challenges of poor technology infrastructures that are not scalable or flexible enough to meet the ever-increasing consumer demand. It’s now time for them to upgrade their legacy systems and networks in order to provide consistent customer experiences as we move into our new normal. Not only this, but an improved infrastructure can establish a stronger foundation for long-term growth and increase a business’ bottom line.

Transitioning to the Cloud 

Data presents a significant opportunity for retailers as it helps them better understand their customer's needs, capitalize on eCommerce and track consumers’ buying behavior, allowing them to make better-informed decisions. By moving to the Cloud, retailers can simplify tasks and maintenance, scaling up or down based on customers’ demand. Companies in the retail sector can integrate a Cloud platform to track real-time and customer trends, plus in-store and online engagements.

Migrating to the Cloud and maximizing data will assist retailers with delivering in-depth insights and enable them to enhance a customer’s experience in the long term. What’s more, it can help meet consumer’s health and safety demands in line with Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines. Therefore, deploying a flexible and scalable Cloud infrastructure is vital to restoring shoppers’ confidence and preparing for the rush of online or in-store shoppers.

Shift to Omnichannel   

While omnichannel has been on retailer’s radars for the last decade, the past year has forced businesses in this sector to consider and invest further in their omnichannel capabilities. More recently, this allows consumers to start and complete their purchases on different channels. For example, a customer can visit the retailer’s website to see if an item is available in-store, reserve it online before picking it up from the nearest store location with ease. 

In order to thrive within this competitive marketplace, retailers need to evaluate all of the customer touchpoints across the buying journey and ensure they have the technology to support this infrastructure. This goes beyond having an online or store-only presence, by combining various applications, systems, and processes to create an end-to-end omnichannel experience. Networks will have an important role to play in this integration, ensuring that retailer’s data can be collected and managed efficiently across digital and physical platforms.

Supply chain optimization 

Covid-19 has created unprecedented shifts in retail supply and demand across the globe, with fractured supply chains, bulk buying habits and stock shortages. Today, retailers need to leverage data intelligently in order to maintain an adequate supply for their increasing customer demand. It’s clear that retailers need to have an accurate view of their inventory and know exactly where an item is throughout their supply chain at any given time. Network reliability is vital in these environments, and many businesses are considering adopting 5G to allow employees to better track the movements of stock in real-time and minimize the potential of supply chain disruptions. Not only will 5G significantly improve speed and productivity, but it can also handle traffic from multiple devices by utilizing its high bandwidth and low latency features.

Another important element of supply chain management is demand forecasting. Technology developments including AI or Machine Learning can help with the heavy lifting, automatically notifying retailers when stock needs to be replenished and completing repetitive tasks that are traditionally carried out manually by warehouse staff. In addition, AI can establish data models over time to derive insights and data-driven decisions. Not only will this boost overall business performance, but it will also improve the cost-effectiveness of the retailer’s operations. 

Data security risks 

In today’s data-driven world, data security is a growing concern for many retailers. A recent survey from PWC, the retail sector suffers an average of 4,000 data security threats every year. What’s more, 16 percent of all companies surveyed faced losses of over $1 million due to data security-related incidents. This highlights that not only does data security impact retail businesses' bottom line, but it also has secondary implications such as loss of customer trust and consumer base, which are even harder to earn back. 

With customer, supplier and company data stored on their systems, retailers have a responsibility to remain accountable for the security, quality and lifecycle management of all of the data within their business. This also links to the EU GDPR regulation that was introduced into the marketplace back in 2018, which means consumers have the right to control how their data is collected and processed by retailers and other organizations. However, with the help of technology, data security is becoming much easier to manage in the long term due to improved cybersecurity tools and preventative measures.

Future of retail 

The importance of having a robust and scalable technology infrastructure can not be overlooked as we move into our new normal. With the right technology in place, retailers can adequately respond to the challenging retail environment and changing consumer buying behavior. By keeping abreast of new technology developments, businesses in the retail sector can explore new services and features, creating a competitive advantage and boosting their bottom line in the long term.

Furthermore, improving their customer’s experience is essential. In a market flooded by endless product options, retail success comes down to delivering a transactional experience for customers. Physical and digital experiences must be connected with omnichannel capabilities and operational efficiencies with data effectively managed to develop useful customer insights. Ultimately, to win in today’s digital world, retailers must embrace change and utilize technology as we move forward into the post-pandemic world.

Alan Hayward, Sales and Marketing Manager, SEH Technology

Alan Hayward is Sales and Marketing Manager at SEH Technology UK and has been with the company for 19 years. In this role, Alan’s responsibilities include overseeing all sales and marketing activity in the UK, as well as collaborating with clients including resellers and distributors.