The last few years have been tough for the retail industry, and 2018 hasn’t seen the situation improve
In the UK we have already seen large companies such as Toys R Us and Maplin fall into administration, resulting in significant store closures and job losses.
This has led both industry experts and armchair pundits to question the future of the retail store. Many have predicted ‘the death of the high street’.
Despite the ever-increasing portion of retail that is gobbled up by e-commerce, to say that the high street will soon be obsolete is obviously over simplistic. In fact, the future of retail will still be centred around the physical store, but its role and function will need to evolve.
Recent research found that physical retail will still account for 80 per cent of sales globally by 2025, an indicator that consumers still see huge value in high street shopping. However, the in-store demands and expectations of these consumers are changing quickly, and so retailers need to keep up if they are to remain healthy and competitive.
Ultimately, retailers need to take advantage of innovative technologies in order to deliver an in-store customer experience that drives engagement and loyalty. This is backed up by research from Vista which found that more than two thirds (67%) of consumers believe retailers should be taking advantage of technologies such as AI, AR and VR. The challenge, however, lies in embracing these technologies while simultaneously delivering cost savings.
Despite the best intentions of many retailers, they often face a common stumbling block in their journey towards the ‘store of the future’ — their existing store IT infrastructures. Many of these infrastructures are preventing the innovative in-store experience customers now expect, and so there needs to be a significant shift in IT approach if retailers are to realise their ambitions.
If stores are to flourish in the future, they require agile IT infrastructures that deliver the applications on which new services are built quickly, cost effectively, and without fuelling the costly hardware proliferation in some stores. The infrastructures also need to be secure, easy to support and financially viable. IT needs to deliver cost savings today, as well as a platform for innovation.
Many current retail IT infrastructures are not optimised for the technologies customers now expect to see in-store, cannot easily be integrated to deliver personalisation across in-store and online, and often result in unnecessary and untenable costs.
What’s required is a focus on the ‘retail edge’ – transforming in-store technology to become cost effective, manageable and agile. This new “retail edge” approach enables the distributed store estate to be managed as an integrated whole — one that can run all required applications and experiences, be deployed, upgraded, secured and supported as one entity from a central point, rather than as a collection of disparate and dedicated in-store systems with separate management and support needs.
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This implies a powerful distributed virtualised in-store technology to securely run multiple applications, peripheral hardware and more in-store. And while this technology delivers many of the flexibility and cost benefits of traditional cloud architectures, it needs to be in-store rather than in-cloud. The dependency on cloud availability and in-built latency is simply too high a risk for retailers to deal with — particularly for POS and other related peripherals. At the heart of such an approach must be intelligent automation technology to enable the control and updating of IT across the entire retail estate; simplifying previously complex IT tasks and ensuring a consistent and secure IT environment
For physical stores to reach their full potential in today’s market their role needs to be redefined, and this cannot be achieved without a redefinition of the technology landscape. Old alternatives of “run it all from the cloud”, or “keep the old stuff working” aren’t enough anymore. Fortunately, managed, distributed and virtualised in-store solutions provide the way forward and most importantly, retailers are not forced into an expensive ‘rip and replace’ buying cycle. There are many retailers now taking a ‘step by step’ approach to digitising the physical store with their legacy IT and achieving significant commercial benefits that have an immediate impact on the bottom line while providing a more innovative customer experience.