5 Hacks to Build a Resilient Multi-Location Retail Network
But when your operations are all about buying and selling through brick and mortar outlets, why do you need to worry about network requirements for your retail chain?
A network outage disables your staff to access customer purchasing history, process credit cards, locate products in stock, and increase the attack surface for your retail network. It affects POS systems, databases, digital signages, and security systems - drawing deep cracks into your network and business operations.
Moreover, with the retail industry exponentially shifting to eCommerce, a network outage impacts both in-store and online sales. Users abandon carts if they are forced to wait for too long. Shoppers who see long queues decide to leave, and remembering those lines, they would like to shop elsewhere the next time. It ultimately leads to lost sales, frustrated customers, and damage to brand image - some of which might take more than just a few months to recover from. 72% of retailers lose sales during a network outage, and 61% find themselves unable to process credit card transactions.
Before we dive into comprehensive network solutions for employing smooth connected retail chain operations, let’s get a bird’s eye view of what causes these network outages.
What are the causes for a network outage?
Many retailers are still a long way from revamping their IT infrastructure to suit modern ways of business. An average retailer spends 58% of their IT budget to maintain their legacy network infrastructure. However, that is of limited benefit, and although it does keep the operations ongoing, but opens the floodgates for network and software failures, incompatibility and incompliance issues, and hence, network outages.
Regular upgrades to software and device configurations are also important pillars your multi-location retail network stands on. You are welcoming network downtime if you do not keep a tab on your network upgrades and policies or have small IT teams that are too overloaded with IT tasks to focus on anything else.
Let’s say you’ve set out with a new store remarkably, but your network isn’t ready to scale as much for any new users entering your network perimeter. In that case, too many people requesting online services at once might lead to network overload/ usage spikes - disabling your network infrastructure to cater to them with the same speed.
Link failure due to fiber cable cuts, weather-related issues, accidental human errors can also lead to network unavailability.
A compromised security perimeter arising from missed security updates, audits, and lack of monitoring and threat management increases the attack surface. This leads to cybercrimes such as attacks on retail POS systems and DDoS attacks - ultimately causing your network to shut down.
However, other than network outages, there’s more to the list of challenges faced by retailers while building a multi-location retail network, such as:
Unprecedented buying behavior
Costs of installing a whole new network
Increased costs for in-store security
Hiring new staff for network management
Multi-cloud adoption challenges
Mandating COVID guidelines without intrusion
How to overcome network challenges and set up your connected retail chain?
1. Expanding your existing network infrastructure to multiple stores
In the tech-driven world, operations are facilitated by network systems for constant data access and retrieval, up-and-running POS systems, and responsive eCommerce websites. However, if you are expanding your business to new locations, you would think of deploying new, separate network infrastructures for your multi-location retail sites. But this would include the costs of hardware, software solutions, deployment and set-up, and hiring IT professionals for monitoring and management.
So, the way around it is: to onboard a solution that can be expanded to your new retail locations to form a connected retail chain without any additional costs.
SD-WAN, software-defined WAN enables scalability for you as:
It is a virtualized network; it doesn’t need hardware investments to expand to new locations.
Since everything is accessible and managed via a software platform, the need to onboard IT teams for management keeps itself to a minimum.
It is highly compatible with multi-branch cloud solutions, giving you the freedom to leverage hybrid and multi-cloud solutions in your tech stack.
2. Centralized network management of multi-location retail network
For smooth retail operations, your network needs to be managed for unexpected downtime, quick customer response time, security monitoring, and compliance requirements. This network management requirement for retail chains increases exponentially as your business and customer base expands. This surfaces challenges such as hiring new IT staff to manage your infrastructure on every location, keeping a tab on multiple vendors, keeping track of network usage for every site, and more.
Centrally-managed network solutions such as SD-WAN can resolve these management bottlenecks for you. This is how:
You get centralized access and visibility into network usage and performance for a single SD-WAN solution deployed over various retail locations.
These smart solutions eliminate backhauling and automate deployment, and intelligently direct traffic across the connected retail chain from a single point.
3. Deploying inherently secure solutions for strengthening security posture
It is imperative that as your retail network grows, your attack surface increases too. Retail IoT devices and PoS hardware are vulnerable attack surfaces to attract cybercriminals. Also, communicating over digital channels and storing data on clouds increases the risks of data leaks in the supply chain. This violates the GDPR for retailers, costs them hefty fines, and degrades their brand reputation.
34% of retailers are worried about being hit by a cyberattack, which hinders their plans in moving to eCommerce. Qualified cybersecurity experts do not come easy; there is even a shortage of security professionals in the industry. And building a multi-location retail network without cybersecurity practices in place is quite close to self-sabotaging.
You need solutions with inherent cybersecurity characteristics and automated threat detection and response. SD-WAN comes with zero-touch provisioning, which allows you to add a remote location online within minutes. It provides traffic encryption, and you can even consult with your providers to integrate a firewall in your SD-WAN solution.
4. Predicting buying behavior and automating COVID compliance with video analytics
Two of the major challenges for retailers in the post-pandemic world are:
Changed and unprecedented buying behavior of their customers
Adhering to the government-mandated COVID norms and assuring health safety of their customers and employees
While the pandemic has slowed down many operations, technology has continued to pace forward. Video analytics solution for retailers enables you to pair it with your existing CCTV solution and get data-driven insights in a cost-effective way. The insights are extracted from heat maps drawn in your multi-store retail network to identify the highest and lowest selling products and by sentiment and demographic analysis of your customers. This helps you better place your products and ads in-store, employ the most productive buying assistants and drive successful marketing campaigns.
The alert-based system in Spectra’s AI-powered video analytics solution, AIVis, enables intelligent pandemic management with these features:
Non-intrusive mask and temperature detection from a safe distance
Automated parking management and instant sanitization alerts
5. Network monitoring & management with managed service providers
87% of retailers wait up to 4 hours for support when an outage occurs. That’s enough time for your customers to get frustrated with slow response time and damage your brand image. Be it a network outage, a ransomware attack, a potential threat to your multi-store retail network - you need to be ready with your recovery measures to bring your network back to life in no time. This puts pressure on your IT team to be on a constant watch to avoid such scenarios while they are already overloaded resolving your in-house IT issues.
The solutions offered by Spectra come with round-the-clock monitoring and 24X7 support for recognizing any potential threats and network outages before they impact your retail business.
Opening a new retail store should add to your revenue and not increase the costs of mitigating network outages, managing more networks, and hiring new personnel. Data-driven insights about your customers and what products sell best attract them the most can go a long way in planning your inventory and placing the right products in the right place, in the right store. New, smart, scalable, and AI-powered solutions are the key to a seamless retail experience and optimized business expansion. To augment your connected retail chain with our scalable networking solutions, reach out to us today!