The average shopper was expected to spend $936 on gifts in the 2016 Holiday season, but at least during Black Friday weekend, a bigger share went to online stores than brick-and-mortar retailers. It’s estimated that 108.5 million Americans shopped online vs. 99.1 in physical stores in the weekend following Thanskgiving.
If the trend continues beyond this Holiday season, it will put pressure on brick-and-mortar retailers to find ways to lure shoppers away from their computers into stores. Some are trying to emulate the online shopping experience by giving customers easy access to information, deploying mobile POS (mPOS) systems to reduce or eliminate checkout lines, and installing digital signage to draw the attention of shoppers to products and promotions.
The idea is to make brick-and-mortar shopping as close to the convenience and intuitiveness of online shopping as possible. Retailers will work with IT consultants, IT Solution Providers and Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to figure out which new and emerging technologies can help them achieve these goals.
Edge computing, which places computer processing at the edge of the network for real-time processing and analysis, is the technology that is likely to enable the transformation brick-and-mortar retailers are seeking.
Retailers can turn to edge computing to improve aspects of their business, such as inventory management, checkout wait times and the overall efficiency of the processing of purchases and returns.
And as retailers do their post-Holiday shopping performance reviews, they also will look at how effectively associates helped customers with inquiries. They’ll want to know if they lost sales because associates were ill-informed and couldn’t access information fast enough – and how this can be improved with immediate access to inventory and product information through mobile apps.
Thanks to online shopping, consumers are savvier and more demanding when they go to a store. They don’t want to stand in front of a slowly loading computer monitor to get information or wait around while an associate fetches a manager to answer a question. Access to information must be immediate and accurate, or a store risks chasing customers off to a physical or online competitor.
IoT in Retail Powered by Edge Computing
How can edge computing improve the shopping experience at physical stores? It can do so in a number of ways, and it will involve a combination of technologies to make it happen. You can think of a brick-and-mortar store as a microcosm of the Internet of Things (IoT), with sensors and cameras dispersed throughout to transmit information and facilitate real-time responses. Edge servers will be processing that data.
Envision this scenario: A customer walks in with a smartphone. Having previously been registered with the store’s WiFi, the phone is sent texts about promotions and new products. Meanwhile, facial-recognition cameras identify the shopper, triggering another system to display items of interest to the shopper as she moves past digital signage monitors.
If the shopper has a question about a product, aiming a smartphone at the product’s barcode will pull up the required information on an app.
Meanwhile, at the backend, the retailer is leveraging intelligent systems to manage inventory and ensure that checkout lines are properly staffed to minimize wait times. At smaller stores, checkouts will be eliminated, with associates instead completing transactions at the point of purchase with tablets connected to mPOS systems.
Some of this technology is already in place. The next evolutionary step will be to make it all work together to deliver an experience that draws shoppers back again and again. Edge computing is what will make it happen. As the Holiday shopping season wraps up, IT providers should be asking to meet with retail customers to go over how edge computing can help them better compete with online retailers in the future.
To learn even more about best practices in managed services, download our free guide, MSP Matters: A Roadmap to Enduring Business Success.
Interested in further resources on edge computing?
To learn more about our Managed Service Provider Program click here.