Retail transformation is happening
Stores have closed their doors—many for good. Largely, people have stayed at home, further aggravating the setbacks for those shops trying to keep their business afloat. And as online shopping has become the norm, this puts the long-term viability of brick-and-mortar shops in question.
However, many – up to 96% according to one report – retailers are looking for creative ways to survive and optimize their operations: inventory strategy, accuracy, and management; theft reduction; self check out; and personalization. One area of innovation underpinning all of these use cases is the use of edge computing, a means of transacting business that sits between smart mobile technologies and the cloud. Coupled with this technology are the ever-present IoT devices they are deploying and those that their customers carry in their pockets and purses.
What customers really DON’T want
While this transformation is driven by customer demand, it’s equally motivated by what customers don’t want:
- No waiting for answers
- No overpaying for items
- No long lines
- No “work” in checking out themselves
In many cases, customers don’t even want to go into stores, preferring curbside pickup. Adoption of edge computing can lead to several scenarios that will improve customer experiences, helping to get and keep them shopping in the store:
- Point of Sale (Online and Offline)—Customers can create their shopping lists anywhere, and when they enter the store, they find out how and where to pick up their items in the shortest time possible.
- In-Store Automation—This capability includes smart self-checkout or frictionless checkout, where customers connect their mobile app to the store PoS system, and then put all their items inside a smart bin connected to the PoS system. The smart bin analyzes the items, creates the list for the customer to review, and lets them pay using their app.
- In-Store Experience, Proximity Marketing, and Pricing—Retailers can utilize IoT sensors to understand customer foot traffic to improve the store layout based on how they move around. Retailers can also monitor customer mobile phones to know what they are looking for and to automatically offer items at a promotional price.
- Automated Inventory Management—CCTV-connected intelligent inventory management (smart shelves) can be used to determine when items need to be re-stocked or change the location of fast-selling items so they are better positioned in the store.
The right tech stack for these strategies
A combination of technologies is required to make all this possible, with smart devices, mobile devices, and sensors on one side of the scenario—and cloud computing on the other. However, there’s a slice of technology in the middle that’s equally essential: edge computing.
Edge computing collects the in-store information, processes it, sends the processed data back to the core system (often in the cloud), and then receives and relays the instructions to the right devices at the right time. Edge computing can be an affordable way to centralize and increase the efficiency of these legacy systems—without moving everything to the cloud.
Unlike cloud-only or on-premises-only solutions, edge-enabled environments could save compute time and money by processing the data on-site and only egressing the data that’s needed for quick-decision making to the cloud. This hybrid compute model makes it possible to only analyze the relevant data and make quick and thoughtful decisions across thousands of locations and leave the irrelevant data out of the equation from a storage, distribution, and compute perspective.
Protecting all that data
It’s paramount that the information is captured, stored, and used in a fashion that does not introduce risk to any party—the business, employees, and consumers. There are numerous requirements to build a scalable, resilient, secure modern retail system:
Safely reawaken your retail business at the edge
When designing and deploying edge computing solutions, innovation is the best way to directly connect your unique shopping experience to your customers so they can more easily and quickly interact with your products, the in-store support, and your streamlined payment processes. Edge computing also makes it easier for your employees to assist customers to further enhance their buying experiences.
At the same time, information security, consumer privacy, system/data integrity, and operational resiliency can’t be forgotten. Building these attributes into your edge computing solution is just as critical so that you can continue to sustain the higher level of service you are offering to your customers.
- 1. IDC February 2021. “IDC Forecasts Improved Growth of Global AI Market in 2021.”
- 2, 6. Algorithmia 2021. “2021 Enterprise Trends in Machine Learning.”
- 3. McKinsey and Company 2021. “AI at scale: Propelling your organization into the next normal.”
- 4, 5. IDC June 2020. “IDC Survey Finds AI Adoption Being driven by Improved Customer Experience, Greater employee Efficiency, and Accelerated Innovations.”