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Retailers and their customers benefit from a robust enterprise network

BY CSA STAFF

Holiday shopping is no longer what it used to be.

The rise of online shopping and mobile has transformed the way in which consumers purchase gifts. It is no longer black and white for retailers either, as cutting-edge platform and technology adoption is a pre-requisite in order to remain competitive. And all factors are causing new challenges related to managing and supporting back-office and customer-facing systems, as well as meeting evolving customer expectations.

Although forecasting and data analysis helps to lessen the shock-factor of supply and demand fluctuations during the holidays, retailers can still run into trouble if they aren’t careful. For example, many retailers were not prepared for the rapid shift to e-commerce sales circa 2004. Three years later, websites suffered with a dramatic increase in online traffic. In 2013, online spending grew an additional 14% from the previous year.

While technology has advanced, online retailers have also been combatting problems, such as too little inventory in warehouses but excess inventory on brick-and-mortar store shelves for more than a decade. One way retailers can mitigate risk this holiday season is to learn from the past and adopt a secure enterprise network.

Retailers that build the right digital network foundation are poised to be winners this year and next. Despite the RetailNext forecast predicting a 5% decline in sales at brick-and-mortar stores in December 2016, the truth is we don’t know for certain how the rest of December will unfold, and it is no surprise that small shifts in consumer behavior can effect retailers a great deal.

At year’s end, retailers will reflect on their overall preparedness during the 2016 holiday shopping season and strategize for 2017. As the chasm between online and in-store buying behavior grows, a strong network can deliver connectivity, efficiency and communication across the supply chain:

• Connectivity: The coordination of mobile applications, point-of-sale (POS) systems and inventory management programs across multiple locations through a connected network is key. As brick-and-mortar stores grow in number and work to re-engage their consumer base, a smart working network is essential to coordinating the information that runs between each location to headquarters and the cloud. With real-time access to essential business data, including customer preferences and purchasing history, retailers analyzing big data can better accommodate even the most demanding ‘Ebenezer Scrooge-like’ customer.

Efficiency: Waiting in a long line, not receiving a gift on time, or worse, discovering that it was backordered until after Christmas can be very frustrating. A high performance network can scale, increase productivity and guarantee service uptimes during the busiest, most stressful (nay, most wonderful) time of the year. Brick-and-mortar stores get crowded during the holidays, and websites are more likely to crash with the influx of last-minute holiday shoppers. With a fine-tuned network infrastructure and managed services, retailers can focus more on customer service and less on technology issues.

• Communication: There are many moving parts and teams involved in a solid holiday retail strategy: employees, customers and suppliers should (in theory) be able to communicate effectively during this busy time. If an item is out of stock online, customers have the expectation that they will be provided options to have items either shipped to their residence, or delivered to their local store for pick-up. Access to data through a reliable network ensures that inventory and information are both delivered quickly.

Having a solid distributed enterprise networking strategy is an essential ingredient for success during today’s digital holiday season. Connecting all locations and employees to real-time information, systems and applications is key.

Whether serving customers online or in-store, retailers are able to manage “real-time inventory,” secure POS systems and create a happy holiday shopping experience. With a reliable, secure enterprise network, retailers can ensure that they make it through the holidays joyfully and prosperously while providing top-notch customer service.


Regan Yeldell is senior director, vertical markets for Comcast Business.

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