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The Importance of Edge Computing for a Rich Retail Experience

To compete in an increasingly wired marketplace, retailers need to replicate the online customer experience in the physical world. Edge computing has emerged as an effective means of making that happen.

July 31, 2020 7 minute read

A brick and mortar store offering complimentary Wi-Fi to customers is nothing new — besides generating goodwill, in-store connectivity also creates opportunities for providing a customized shopping experience in real-time within the store. And, it allows sales associates on the floor to access useful applications and content that can help them do their jobs better.

In-store connectivity even provides a way to replicate many of the experiences people enjoy about online shopping, which itself is an effort to improve the in-person retail experience with features like:

  • The personal “welcome back” greeting by name when you enter.
  • Related product recommendations based on purchase/browsing history.
  • Instant assistance through search and chat windows.
  • Digital promotions pushed out to your device as an incentive to return.

That depth of customer reach has always been difficult for brick and mortar stores to match. Yet retailers are under pressure to compete with mobile and online shopping options while delivering personalized experiences. They’re up against shifting consumer buying habits as more people choose mobile and online shopping options. This makes effective data management a do-or-die component of retail operations.

To compete in an increasingly wired marketplace, retailers need to replicate that same online customer experience in the physical world. Edge computing, with an emphasis on robust caching and enabling technologies that work together, has emerged as an effective means of making that happen.

Overcoming barriers to a richer in-store experience with edge computing

For those unfamiliar, edge computing provides the ability to process, store and leverage immense volumes of data closer to the consumer’s physical location. Caching reduces latency for real-time responsiveness and minimizes costly data center traffic. Best of all, it enables an array of in-store marketing capabilities – that is, with the right hardware and software in place.

Edge computing represents a $17 billion opportunity across a range of market segments – retail being key among them. But the advantages of edge computing in retail are lost if the browsing experience is slow, bandwidth constraints and lagging connectivity hinder the ability of sales associates to access content quickly or if customer engagement opportunities such as personalized digital displays are too slow.

Retailers don’t want to have to invest in upgrading their networks to create the bandwidth needed for an effective edge computing experience. Yet, without solving the bandwidth problem, such an edge experience isn’t realized.

That’s where caching comes into play.

Caching is the critical factor

At the heart of an effective retail edge solution is the need for a self-contained caching appliance that plugs into the local network to perform a single function: web caching. Caching accelerates network connectivity, allowing end-users to retrieve commonly accessed web pages and other files instantly, versus fetching them from a distant source, to enable much faster, more responsive performance.

Capturing every byte of customer data at the retail edge is essential for bringing a customized in-store shopping experience to life. Caching enables that information to be stored, filtered and leveraged for all manner of promotional strategies to serve each shopper’s unique needs. But, even caching isn’t enough – you also need the right supporting technologies and software to make it happen.

Assembling the building blocks of an ideal retail edge solution

To maximize the advantages of an edge solution for retail, especially when 5G connectivity becomes available, it’s important to have these elements in place:

Powerful endpoint devices and supporting hardware:

  • Touchscreen tablets for sales associates to check inventory, answer customer inquiries, ring up sales, produce digital coupons, and more.
  • In-store kiosks, digital display screens and other devices that can announce customized promotions for individual customers as they navigate the store – all created from known shopping histories available in the local network.
  • A caching appliance that holds the local files, accelerating response times and minimizing costly traffic to and from a distant data center.
  • And enabling hardware infrastructure based on Intel® technology. Intel provides industry-leading performance and reliability under highly demanding workloads to capture, store, process and leverage customer data.

Specialized caching software

  • The software resides between in-store customers and the Internet content they’re accessing, intercepting requests and fetching files, keeping a local copy that can be accessed again quickly, alleviating network consumption and accelerating response time. Leading software providers for edge applications include MobiledgeX and SuperLumin.
  • Fine-tuned for retail, SuperLumin is one of the few providers offering an enterprise private cache, with a small footprint ideal for running on the edge. While some software solutions are bundled into the hardware, SuperLumin is available as software-only, providing a powerful yet cost-efficient solution with the flexibility to work with an existing device.

Deployment by an experienced integrated solution provider:

  • It’s important to work with an experienced provider who understands the complexities of creating an effective retail edge computing solution. WWT focuses on the four drivers of a successful edge implementation: richer customer experiences, real-time support, cost-efficiency, and data security. We help our customers evaluate technology options and formulate a deployment plan to implement a solid edge solution.

Bringing the full potential of retail edge computing to life

Now with all the elements in place, the full potential of the retail edge can come alive:

  • Outside the store, retailers can convert sidewalk traffic to in-store shoppers with attractive, easily changeable digital window displays.
  • As customers enter, their personal devices automatically connect to the network and their known purchase history is accessed. They can request customized coupons, get information about specials, receive recommendations, tap into personalized shopper assistance, and more.
  • Moving through the store, customers are exposed to strategically positioned end-aisle kiosks and digital screens that display customized promotional offers based on the individual shopper’s buying patterns. As they access the Internet via the store’s wi-fi, the retail edge solution can push out offers to their devices.
  • Sales associates benefit from retail edge features that allow them to provide more effective customer service, offering real-time insight into inventory levels, or answering questions easily with the help of tablet-size digital assistants.
  • Easy-to-use product finder displays mounted seamlessly in aisle fixtures can guide customers to the right OTC medications based on self-selected symptoms and preferences, helping avoid over-medication. Interactive virtual shelving allows for attractive product displays while conserving physical shelf space and minimizing theft.

And those are just a few examples. Through all these experiential features – compelling digital signage, sales associate tools and automated in-store announcements and more – edge computing done right can offer a customized shopping journey to rival the online stores, even extending their touch long after the buyer has left the building. But only if the right elements are correctly deployed to truly provide an effective edge retail experience.

It comes down to making the right technology choices

The key to effective edge computing solutions for retailers is to capture and leverage essential customer data through local caching. Equipped with today’s powerful in-store compute capabilities and enabling technologies, retailers can level the playing field to compete with online counterparts, providing a customized shopping experience that strengthens brand preference and delivers true business value.

Retail is just one example of the benefits of edge computing. The possibilities for growth and success at the edge extend to virtually every market segment, from healthcare to manufacturing, education and the public sector– anything that benefits from keeping compute as close as possible to the end user.

The key is in choosing best-in-class solution ingredients – in the case of retail, the caching appliance and other hardware, networking, software, and enabling Intel® technology – and in having the integration experience to bring them together for a unique customer experience in the real world.

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