Michael Wood, Chief Marketing Officer at Versa Networks
Digitization does not stop at retail either, because customers expect a modern shopping experience in both e-commerce and stationary retail. While a secure Wi-Fi connection and fast cash registers are now a basic requirement in the store, online mobile payment gateways and interaction with rich media are required.
Many retailers have recognized this trend. They provide an integrated shopping experience through a seamless connection between online and offline business, which can significantly increase customer acquisition and retention. But new technologies also require robust and efficient connections to databases and applications in the cloud or in a data center. This trend will increase in the next ten years with the shift of workloads and customer analytics to the cloud, the spread of the Internet of Things and the rapid development of low-code applications.
Conventional MPLS is reaching its limits
For retailers, this means that their business-critical applications must work reliably around the clock and across different channels, devices and platforms. In the network, the change is decided in retail, because conventional WANs and branch offices are often not able to meet new customer requirements for more digital services such as social media but also for more protection against data misuse.
Traditional connectivity such as MPLS is proving to be too expensive and too rigid for the dynamic demands of today’s retail. The increasing use of cloud-based applications, rich media, VoIP and cloud-based productivity and collaboration tools is rapidly increasing the demand for bandwidth, so that the sole use of MPLS can become more and more expensive. Public Wi-Fi, on the other hand, offers flexibility and easy access to the cloud, but is fraught with inherent problems such as latency and packet loss (especially at long distances). In addition, there are issues of security, network stability and performance.
Most retailers today have multiple sites, applications and platforms for their business and customers, but each of them is a potential vulnerability for possible attacks. The increasing use of public Wi-Fi or broadband connections with the cloud or devices exposes the retail network to criminal activity and potential attackers. Point-of-sale, IoT and mobile devices that connect via in-store Wi-Fi are also possible targets. Segmentation is critical to ensure a secure separation between guest and corporate network services. A tight integration of security and network ensures that the retail IT department can control, mitigate and analyze network risks, while at the same time supporting better methods for enforcing policies across the corporate network.
Cost factor Security
The issue of security has become one of the biggest problems in retail. For example, the average cost of a retail data breach in 2021 was $3.27 million, compared to an average of $2.01 million in 2020, as the Cost of a Data Breach Report 2021 shows. This is an increase of 62.7 percent. It should be borne in mind that the actual costs are much more than the pure sum that was stolen from the company or its customers. Rather, the costs of data breaches in the retail sector also include customer compensation payments through credit monitoring and identity monitoring services, litigation in the event of a class action and, of course, the correction of the data breach, including the prevention of future attacks. In fact, the reputational damage caused by the lost trust of consumers usually overshadows the loss of sales due to business interruptions.
Business-critical applications such as POS or inventory management must run without interruption throughout the working day. It becomes even more difficult when the entire infrastructure has to be designed and provided for seasonal work peaks. As retail locations increasingly rely on real-time applications such as VoIP and unified communications, delays and downtime are a problem that cannot be tolerated. Whether it’s applications that enable day-to-day business, or consumer mobile and web applications hosted on-premises or in the cloud, it’s critical that application delivery is done without compromising on quality and ease of use.
Characteristics of a sustainable WAN
Modern networks that power the underlying infrastructure for digital, cloud-centric retail businesses must be intelligent and built to provide uninterrupted, secure connectivity to cloud applications. Excellent application performance, shorter deployment times, and minimized costs and complexity in operating the networks are some of the features that retailers should consider when building a future-proof WAN.
Regardless of whether the retail company decides to expand by opening new branches or by taking over new geographical locations, the role of the IT department is crucial for the rapid integration of new locations. SD-WAN’s centralized management and console makes it easy to set up new services and new locations, and adjust policies remotely for immediate results without worrying about the costs, resources, and logistics involved in setting up a new IT infrastructure at a new location.
A new approach to integrating security and networking in a solution called Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) enables retail IT teams to proactively set up application transport policies and network routes to handle traffic spikes instead of having to upgrade lines and bandwidth. SD-WAN, a feature of SASE, also enables retailers to meet peak demand while delivering an exceptional customer experience by leveraging low-cost broadband connections and making them more secure and enterprise-ready.
Retail is certainly the economic sector with the greatest IT dependence. On the one hand, this results in numerous technical possibilities for improving service quality, cost efficiency and the customer experience. On the other hand, network outages or service interruptions can lead to significant financial losses.
With SASE and SD-WAN, IT managers in retail can build a more robust, reliable and trustworthy network infrastructure and thus serve their customers in the best possible way. By creating a perfect balance between security, manageability, network operational efficiency and performance, IT leaders can help their organizations develop and deliver affordable, world-class sales services to customers. SASE enables faster service delivery, improved application performance and easier branch and compliance management.