Black Friday: Why Edge Computing is a Lynchpin in Supply & Demand

edge computing in retail during Black Friday

For the second consecutive year, Black Friday is breaking with tradition. In fact, Black Friday has already started. Retailers are encouraging consumers to shop early because of supply chain issues that have persisted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their message: Buy now or the products you want may run out quickly.

Keeping shelves and warehouses properly stocked this season is testing the ability of retailers to manage demand and inventory. The supply chain issues require meticulous planning and real-time tracking of sales. Edge computing networks can play a key role here – by placing data collection and processing as close to retail sites as possible so the data can be used in real-time inventory management decisions.

Global supply chain – A domino effect

Global supply chain disruptions started in mid-2020 after manufacturers executed shutdowns in attempts to arrest the spread of the Coronavirus. Returning manufacturing processes to normal is taking longer than expected. Meanwhile, the movement of goods has stumbled as a result of manufacturing interruptions, COVID-related restrictions, and critical staff shortages in various industries, including logistics and transportation around the globe.

Currently, ships carrying goods from Asia are lined up outside major ports in the United States and elsewhere around the world waiting to unload. The port of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California and the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe, have to either turn away ships or place them in a holding pattern because of a lack of capacity.

Hundreds of thousands of empty shipping containers are stacked dockside, waiting for ships to unload and return them to Asian manufacturers, who meanwhile have no containers to ship their goods.

Shopping early

Anticipating product shortages, retailers started offering early discounts and promotions in an effort to salvage the shopping season. European retailers Boohoo and H&M are warning of supply chain issues and encouraging early shopping. A slew of other retailers, including Pottery Barn, Ulta Beauty, Gap and PacSun launched Holiday campaigns as early as September, according to Reuters. Retailers, Reuters reported, “face shipping snarls and other logistics challenges that could leave them unable to meet consumer demand during the fourth quarter if people wait until the last minute to make gift purchases.”

The supply chain disruptions are getting in the way of what might have been a return to normalcy, as COVID-19 numbers hit a downward curve, vaccinations increase, and shoppers regain confidence in returning to stores. But even as store traffic increases, retailers also are facing major staffing issues because of a global labor shortage.

Edge computing to the rescue

Retailers can alleviate staffing and inventory issues by turning to technology and automation. For instance, workforce management software helps optimize staff utilization through smarter scheduling and work assignments. Online smart product data feeds and tight integration between point of sale (POS) and backroom systems help track and update inventory.

For these systems to deliver the desired results, retailers need to invest in edge computing networks to enable real-time data processing and decision-making. Edge deployments make systems more responsive by eliminating latency as data travels to and from cloud infrastructures.

Edge sites placed near the POS can optimize operations and enhance the customer experience. Consider the increasingly popular practice of curbside pickup. Online and mobile ordering systems need to communicate with the specific location where customers pick up their purchases. Data flows from the web or mobile interface to order takers at the store to the backroom staff for picking and packing to the associates who deliver the order at curbside.

Another retail application is the self-checkout kiosk that is becoming more ubiquitous in many stores. The ability to keep kiosks up and running for resilient POS operations is critical. Data from these kiosks feed into inventory management and provide updates on product availability. Lastly, with the uptick in m-commerce, customers using their mobile devices for shopping, brick-and-mortar retail can leverage data to enrich the customer experience, gather customer data, and drive sales. With all of these applications, edge computing solutions can help deliver the speed and accuracy needed for the entire process to work.

Edge computing helps retailers meet the challenges they are facing in yet another unusual Holiday shopping season. As Black Friday gets extended over a period of months, instead of one day, retailers can turn to automation and edge technologies to create a positive experience for shoppers. Discover how edge computing can enable smoother retail operations and further drive digital transformation.

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