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Survey: Omnichannel drives retailer tech priorities

BY Dan Berthiaume

The need to provide a seamless customer experience is having a big impact on the types of solutions retailers are trying to implement.

According the new Retail Industry Insight benchmark report conducted by Retail Systems Research for SPS Commerce Inc., e-commerce and stores have switched places as the top growth driver for retail IT purchases. Retailers rank growing e-commerce sales as their top priority (75%) followed by improving the in-store experience (53%).

However, retailers are hardly overlooking the importance of the store in the omnichannel experience. Retailers rate their visibility to available inventory from supplier warehouses as critically low (21%) and in-store visibility at insufficient levels (75%) to meet consumer demand. In addition, retailers cite more or improved item attributes as their top desire from vendors in 2016 (69%),

"For the last three years, the survey has shown omnichannel retail evolving from a quest for consistent customer-facing experience to a scramble for faster fulfillment,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner at Retail Systems Research. “Retailers need to have the ability to take an order no matter where demand is generated, or where the inventory to meet that demand is located, and get it to the customer as quickly as possible. Over the past year, we saw the ecosystem take a deep breath as it absorbed the depth of change required to achieve these omnichannel goals.”

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AutoZone revs up network

BY Dan Berthiaume

AutoZone knows that driving experience and customer experience both depend on a well-built frame.

Thus AutoZone is turning to AT&T to provide the chassis for a seamless front- and back-end retail experience. AT&T will provide a suite of mobile and broadband solutions for its U.S. stores, call centers, and back-end offices that deliver voice, Internet and mobility solutions.

"We're always looking for ways to make our business more efficient and better serve our customers," said Bill Rhodes, chairman, president & CEO, AutoZone. "That's why we teamed up with AT&T to implement a unified broadband and mobile network solution that will serve as the foundation for improving the in-store experience for our customers and our AutoZoners."

Specifically, AT&T integrates solutions will provide functionality including network reporting capabilities, predictable and stable bandwidth capacity, a simplified store architecture with fewer points of failure, virtual line capacity for flexibility in phone-based customer service, near-real-time customer call analytics, and a wireless network backup solution.

A satisfactory front-end seamless customer experience require enormous effort and capability in the back end, which all rests on a robust and flexible network. AutoZone is putting itself on the road to omnichannel success, and having network backup in place is good protection against potholes along the way.

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How brick-and-mortar retailers can build shopper loyalty

BY Prashanth Shenoy

Retailers understand that loyal customers are the most profitable shoppers. While these consumers make buying decisions that are increasingly influenced by online channels, the vast majority of retail business in the United States is conducted in the physical store, and this isn’t changing with the Millennial generation.

In fact, a study from TimeTrade showed 92 percent of responding Millennials planned to shop in-store in 2015 as often or more than they did in 2014. Brick-and-mortar stores remain critical in a retailer’s ability to engage customers and build loyalty in a consistent and personalized way.

The importance of brick-and-mortar in no way diminishes the significance of a connected experience. In fact, with the always-connected consumer, retailers must seek opportunities to converge digital and physical experiences for consumers. The average American spends nearly three hours on their mobile device each day according to the latest figures from eMarketer, and consumers tend to reward businesses that provide Wi-Fi access with increased loyalty. Seventy to 80% of shoppers enter a store or mall with their Wi-Fi turned on, and sales on mobile devices has grown by more than 50% annually over the last two years. This presents enormous opportunity for retailers who combine in-store and mobile experiences.

Wi-Fi is the essential on ramp to this new digital retail experience. The quality of the on-site interactions — from social media to hyper-relevant content delivery—is built upon the quality of this network. Yet, to truly take advantage of opportunities in today’s digitally-focused world merely offering fast Wi-Fi isn’t enough. The wireless infrastructure should also be more than a means to push out coupons and alerts to mobile devices. It can be a differentiator for the retailer who creates relevant and personalized experiences that provide returning customers with the information they want when they want it. Wi-Fi is a strategic asset.

Real-Time Data on Customer Preferences
We know Wi-Fi is a must-have demand for customers and therefore a business necessity for retailers. Customers want easy connection to fast, uninterrupted Wi-Fi access – but more than that, Wi-Fi serves as an opportunity for retailers to better understand their customers. Wi-Fi can unlock information retailers can use to deliver a more relevant in-store service.

Retailers can utilize an advanced wireless infrastructure to detect the Wi-Fi connected device of a customer coming into the physical location. That detection can be as simple as presence analytics (detecting presence in the store) or, through a loyalty application, can provide the retailer with purchase history and preferences of that customer. When does a shopper make purchases, and what do they typically buy? Based on this information, retailers can adjust how they interact with a first-time visitor vs. a frequent shopper.

If retailers encourage shoppers to access Wi-Fi through a captive portal using social media log-ins, they also gain access to aggregated and anonymous demographic data. These insights can help the store better understand and serve customers.

Keep Customers Connected and Engaged on the Retail Floor
When considering a wireless network that acts as the basis for mobile engagement, retailers should ensure that the Wi-Fi is capable of handling multiple devices at speeds that customers demand. Customers want unfettered access for the best possible connection; a poor connection is worse than no connection.

For a network to deliver bottleneck-free speeds, support the high density retail environment and power real-time analytics, retailers should become familiar with the latest in wireless standards and determine when they need to make an upgrade to faster speeds, such as those delivered by 802.11ac Wave 2.

The density of a store’s Wi-Fi infrastructure is crucial to unlock shopper information. With the large number of anticipated mobile devices walking through the door, particularly on high traffic days, high density setups ensure great performance for every device. In addition, high density provides improved location accuracy. With an optimized deployment, accurate location-based technology can pinpoint a customer’s location on the retail floor to as close as one meter. This allows in-store engagement to be highly context-aware. Offers and communications can be based on location on the retailer floor to the sub-aisle level, avoiding blanket discounts that could drain profitability and diminish relevance. However, this requires a density of wireless access points that is carefully mapped to the retail design and floor plan for best results. Consulting a professional to determine best placement of the access points will also aid in location services accuracy.

Securing Your Customer Data and Future Trust in Your Brand
Security and privacy are key concerns for retail customers. Data and privacy breaches can be impediments to greater adoption of in-store mobile and location-based services. Security must be handled with transparency and customer acceptance. Customers will opt in for service if they believe the value they receive in return is worth the level of privacy they surrender. And they need to know that information will be handled securely. Making clear to customers how their information is being analyzed is just as important as gathering it. Give customers the option to “opt in” to these personal experiences and make clear that personal data is generally handled in aggregation and never stored.

Even if customers elect to not opt in, there is still analytic value that can be extracted from customer visits. Use a location-based service that allows mobile device signals to be detected anonymously. These aggregated insights can still provide key data about how customers behave in the store. And, through social media log-ins and a captive portal, the store can even receive summary demographic information without violating privacy concerns.

The bottom line is wireless infrastructures are the first and most critical step for retailers who want to invest in the physical and online experiences of their customers. A well-rounded strategy includes Wi-Fi infrastructure that can power location technology, provide the best speed and bandwidth capabilities to serve customers and deliver real-time data, and capture essential presence and location analytics data. By merging in-store experiences with connected ones, retailers will convert browsers into loyal buyers, drive more purchases, and improve overall business performance.


Prashanth Shenoy is Senior Director of Enterprise Networking and Mobility for Cisco.

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