Jul 06 2022

Networking Essentials for a Modernized Checkout Experience

Connecting shoppers to store applications, and apps to each other and the cloud or data center, is critical for improving customer experiences.

North American consumers expect to do about 62 percent of their shopping in person in 2022, according to a recent survey by Intel, an indication that shoppers are eager to return to stores. That’s why retailers are placing new emphasis on in-store offerings — including modernized checkout experiences.

A modernized checkout strategy incorporates numerous technologies to deliver a cohesive, seamless experience. For these tools to work together, organizations need strong networking. From Wi-Fi to software-defined WAN to the back-end technologies that ensure applications are connected and data is current, the right networking solutions are crucial for enabling a modern approach to checkout, and for maintaining accurate inventory in the era of omnichannel retail. 

RELATED: Discover the vital IT solutions available for retailers right now.

Modernized Checkout Strategies Retailers Should Use

“There are two essential elements to any modern checkout strategy: It should reduce the overall cost of the checkout process for the retailer, and it must be adopted by the consumer,” says Mark Scanlan, global retail lead for Cisco’s industry solutions group. 

To those ends, reducing or eliminating the cost and physical footprint associated with legacy point-of-sale technology is significant for retailers, Scanlan says. Replacing a fixed legacy POS with, for example, a tablet that may wirelessly connect to peripherals such as the cash drawer, payment device and receipt printer offers a retailer multiple benefits: Mobile devices are relatively inexpensive compared with legacy POS hardware and are easily swapped out in the event of failure. They also have the advantage of portability, so an associate can engage with customers face-to-face without the need to step away from them and potentially lose a sale.

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Some businesses are opting for solutions that reduce the need for a POS altogether. Consumers can self-scan products as they add them to their physical carts, or virtual carts for home delivery, and complete the shopping trip with a tap on their own screens. The beauty of this approach is that every transaction is processed centrally, allowing retailers to consolidate their transaction volume and reduce their cost per transaction from the payment processor. It also means that retailers may require fewer checkout lanes to support traditional POS customers. 

Looking for the perfect mobile point-of-sale solution for your retail business? Discover your options.

How Different Kinds of Connectivity Can Work for Retailers

Connectivity can be split into two distinct areas: endpoint connectivity, which may include wired, wireless and cellular, and backhaul from the store to the data center, internet or cloud. From a retailer’s perspective, the type of connectivity may be driven by the endpoint type. 

Wherever possible, retailers should think about having redundant connections and the ability to segment, direct and prioritize traffic based on traffic type and the endpoint’s or end user’s role. “Fragmented infrastructure made up of a patchwork of vendors complicates management and makes it more difficult to correlate data from different sources,” Scanlan says.

The most frequent misperception Scanlan encounters is that 5G cellular service will be the solution for all retail woes. Just as with prior generations of cellular service, indoor coverage will be inconsistent due to sources of interference from the building itself, HVAC, refrigeration, fixtures, etc. In the short term, public 5G may be better suited to being one of the backhaul channels using 5G gateways, like the Meraki MG series, Scanlan says. 

And let’s not forget Wi-Fi. “All of these in-store devices need a lane,” says Wali Azim, CDW’s district sales manager for the Pacific Northwest. “The highway needs to be expanded because more people are driving. Lack of connectivity is directly related to the experience someone has in the store. If you don’t have robust Wi-Fi, your consumer will have a poor experience.” 

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Why SD-WAN Is Vital to Modern Checkout

Finally, a truly modernized checkout experience requires a software-defined WAN architecture. “Retailers constantly want to bring new technology and services to evolve their stores, but they don’t necessarily want to manage them,” Azim says. “Adopting an SD-WAN architecture allows them to consolidate management.”

SD-WAN decouples the network and the control plane, abstracting traffic management and monitoring from network hardware. By automating network deployment and management, SD-WAN virtualizes resources, which boosts performance, enhances the efficiency of the network and improves network availability while lowering total cost of ownership.

From SD-WAN to Wi-Fi to the back-end technologies that ensure applications are connected and data is current, the key to delivering value to the retailer, no matter the use case, “is having a fast, robust, reliable, consistent and secure infrastructure that will allow the retailer to innovate to meet changing customer expectations and business conditions,” Scanlan adds. 

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