Level 3 Communications

Susan McReynolds

Retail’s Top 5 Omnichannel IT Solutions for 2016

It’s not news that mobility and consumer technology trends are driving demand for a greatly enhanced path to purchase. Today’s consumers expect a seamless brand experience, whether they’re shopping online, on their phones or in the store.

For retailers, the concept of “omnichannel” strategies has been quickly building buzz the past few years. And it’s become clear that to stay in the game, the time to develop and implement an omnichannel strategy is now. In fact, according to IDC, omnichannel laggards will shutter 10 times more stores than their competitors by 2018.

Companies are feeling the pressure to prioritize IT initiatives that can help deliver an integrated shopping experience, as well as support their needs for improved data management, inventory control and security.

Strategic investments that help transform legacy network designs, optimize performance and streamline operations are crucial to building the right foundation to compete in an omnichannel environment. But researching, prioritizing and deploying the necessary technology components can be daunting, to say the least.

Given the pressure to deliver measurable ROI in an increasingly competitive marketplace, it is important IT managers target those solutions that can best enable them to make the transition to omnichannel retail. From our perspective, these include:

Next-Generation Retail Networks

Yesterday’s disparate technologies, systems and networking solutions hold retailers back from effectively executing an omnichannel strategy that is essential for competitive differentiation and long-term profitability. Retailers are learning they need to optimize legacy network designs to reduce operational complexity and transform end-to-end performance of the WAN. In fact, 80 percent of retailers will focus on optimizing WAN bandwidth  for 2016 to future-proof against shifting demands.

A key network capability for any retailer is a next-gen infrastructure that supports peak-period bursting demands and optimizes application performance in a distributed environment, while maintaining class-of-service (CoS), diversity and optimized routing features across the network. Network performance is especially critical during the holiday season, when retailers experience heavier than normal demand but must ensure user experience and uptime is not impacted.

Multi-Layered Security and Threat Intelligence

According to Forrester, security is the number-one concern of the retail CIO. One of the most damaging results of any major cyberattack or security breach is the loss of consumer confidence in the brand. Still, many retailers are ill-equipped to discover a breach in a timely manner; the average time it takes for a retailer to discover a breach is 197 days.

Combining multi-layered defenses with next-gen global threat intelligence allows retailers to create security defenses to help protect sensitive data, systems and networks. Retailers should ensure their network provider provides 24/7 global security operations with expansive visibility into worldwide internet traffic to help prevent, detect and mitigate cyberthreats before they negatively affect the business.

Secure Cloud Connections

With all of the demands on retail networks, it is critical to quickly and securely move large volumes of data, run analytics, transfer workloads and deliver mission-critical apps to and from the cloud without interruption. Delays and latency can mean lost revenue, diminished efficiencies and missed opportunities, resulting in poor omnichannel execution that can impact the bottom line.

With that in mind, 52 percent of retailers plan to employ hybrid cloud architectures this year for promised scalability, agility and cost savings.

But how you connect to the cloud matters. Savvy retailers are turning to private connections to the leading public and private CSPs for dependable performance, low latency and reliable throughput—all with enhanced security to protect sensitive customer and company information.

Secure Data Analytics Retrieval and Deployment Capabilities

Retailers are investing heavily in data analytics to ensure they are driving the right message, to the right customer at the right time. Retail Info Systems News estimates retail investment in BI/analytics will grow from 13 percent of IT budgets in 2016 to 18 percent by 2020.

These deeper connections and insights help retailers provide a customized, real-time shopping experience. Retailers can gain up to 11 percent in additional net profit through advanced in-store analytics. In addition to increased visibility into customer behavior and preferences, data analysis can help streamline operations by optimizing inventory forecasting, replenishment, local product assortment and asset management.

Combine security concerns with the sheer data demand to support a true omnichannel experience, and it quickly becomes apparent why selecting the right provider is critical to the success of any omnichannel strategy.

Retailers need to research providers’ capacity and capabilities carefully. Does the provider offer a global footprint? What is the scope of the providers’ security solutions?  Reliable providers are willing to be transparent and provide real-world implementation examples and use cases.

“Right Size” Connectivity Solutions

Although eCommerce and mobile sales continue to gain momentum, 94 percent of all transactions still take place in a brick and mortar environment. Omnichannel retailers understand their physical and digital assets must be fully integrated since multi-channel shoppers have a 30 percent higher lifetime value.

Best-in-class retailers are looking to bring online digital engagement directly into the store environment, and brands must increase bandwidth and throughput to support the growing demands on the store network. Forrester recommends retailers plan for 10 times today’s bandwidth capacity to accommodate the evolving digital requirements in-store.

To create an optimized balance of premium connectivity, retailers need to look for a mix of WAN technologies to achieve private networking and “right size” connectivity solutions for branch locations. And IT teams must be able to ensure secure store connectivity and failover that enables uptime and access to mission-critical applications.

In short, the retail landscape is evolving rapidly, making it critical for retailers to select a provider who not only understands how to deliver against key business challenges, but has the network and solutions portfolio in place to do so today.

Find out more about Level 3’s approach to retail omnichannel IT solutions.