Schneider Electric - The retail sector has been in flux over the last decade, disrupted by paradigm shifts such as e-commerce and rapidly changing consumer preferences.
In the last two years, mitigation measures and lockdowns enacted due to the ongoing pandemic has further accelerated these trends, increasing the pressure on retailers to transform.
Building a seamless experience for today's smartphone-toting shoppers and savvy customers calls for an omnichannel approach.
By breaking down the barriers between online, mobile, and in-person shopping, retailers can give customers the freedom they desire, such as initiating a purchase on one channel and completing it on another
Another popular option for consumers is "buy online, pick up in-store" or BOPIS, which offers the convenience of picking up their goods quickly and at the time of their choosing - and without incurring any delivery fees. For instance, Decathlon's e-commerce store in Singapore offers the option of home delivery or collecting it at a retail outlet.
Beyond an omnichannel approach, it is also necessary to transform stores to replicate an online-like experience as shoppers saunter down the retail aisles checking off their shopping lists. This is where smart shelves, self-help kiosks, and automated checkout options can move the needle on customer experience.
Behind the scenes, automated technologies can track inventory in real-time to keep shelves stocked and facilitate e-commerce purchases for a seamless shopping experience
Of course, enabling these capabilities will require investments in terms of new systems, digital platforms, and digital infrastructure.
Indeed, the virtual dressing rooms with digital mirrors, automated checkouts with cameras that recognise produce, and handheld scanners for self-help must be powered by backend systems with near-instant reaction times.
To meet customer expectations quickly and without delays, retailers must bring the applications and the underlying processing and storage closer to where the data is being created.
Doing this at scale for a seamless retail experience will depend on edge computing, which is the practice of capturing, processing, and analysing data near where the data is generated instead of in a centralised computing environment.
According to Chris Hanley of Schneider Electric, edge computing sites located close to the point of sale (POS) can significantly enhance the customer experience.
"Consider the practices of BOPIS or [kerb] side pickup. With real-time data flowing between ordering systems, warehouse systems, and in-store order tracking and fulfilment, customers can be assured their items will be ready for pick up when they arrive at the store," he wrote.
With edge computing to deliver the necessary real-time processing and the analytics to power the growing number of in-store services, retailers can look to implement omnichannel strategies and empower other advanced in-store capabilities.
The retail industry has weathered disruptions in the past and the changes today are hardly different. Edge computing can serve as the cornerstone for retailers to build new experiences and meet rising expectations.
To further explore how edge computing can benefit retailers, check out the edge computing page at Schneider Electric here.