As concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic wane, shoppers are returning to brick-and-mortar stores — now with much higher expectations for smooth, seamless omnichannel customer experiences. As evidence of consumer demand, in-store sales jumped by 13.4 percent year-over-year in May 2022, compared to only 2.2 percent growth in online sales.
That’s promising, but to keep customers coming back it’s essential to make an in-store purchase as fast and simple as buying online. That’s why retailers are adding customer-centric applications such as click-and-collect, in-store apps, mobile coupons, smart checkout, and much more.
These types of solutions are revolutionizing retail, and require a fast, reliable and secure IT infrastructure. That’s why edge computing is so important. Edge computing brings processing power close to the consumer to reduce latency so it’s quick and easy to access apps and other online information. The computing that supports in-store point-of-sale platforms, self-checkout, data collection and security, and in-store security systems is housed at the edge of the network.
Edge computing also plays a key role in the distribution center, where edge computing systems manage inventory and logistics, use artificial intelligence to bridge gaps created by ongoing labor shortages, and manage demand from customers around the world. These mission-critical applications require complex, robust IT infrastructure.
In the not-so-distant past, IT infrastructure in stores or distribution centers typically consisted of a single server plugged into the wall in a back room. To compete today, retailers need edge computing resources that can support sophisticated AI tools and much more. This technology is the foundation for all aspects of retail operations.
5 Keys to Meeting Omnichannel Customer Expectations
- Ensure optimal computing power in small spaces. Whether in-store or in the distribution center, space is often at a premium. Adopt compact, self-contained systems that provide physical security for IT equipment and include dedicated cooling and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems for power conditioning and protection. These can be as small as a single cabinet or as large as an integrated row, aisle or containerized solution.
- Protect sensitive equipment against dust and high temperatures. Edge computing technology must operate reliably outside the carefully controlled environment of the data center. Edge deployments are often tucked into closets and converted storage areas never designed to house sensitive IT equipment. Tailoring a cooling solution to the environment and computing needs allows a delivery of clean, cold air straight to the rack or row as needed. On the power side, lithium-ion batteries operate at higher temperatures than VRLA, while requiring less space. Frequent filter inspection and regular replacement is imperative to ensure systems function efficiently.
- Ensure adequate backup power. High temperatures are contributing to the grid becoming less stable, which makes backup power more critical than ever. UPS units with lithium-ion batteries have an operational life of up to three times to five times that of VRLA batteries, meaning they may last for the life of the UPS, never needing a replacement. These attributes can result in significant savings of both time and expense — whether it’s a single site or for operations that have hundreds or even thousands of locations.
- Invest in visibility. Edge computing technology can be scattered across hundreds or even thousands of sites in a network, most of which don’t have on-site IT staff. Sophisticated remote monitoring and management tools can ensure edge sites are operating correctly and issues are identified before they create problems.
- Work with a qualified partner. The right partner will offer the knowledge and experience to help retailers operate a best-in-class IT network, while keeping pace with customer expectations.
These steps can help ensure brick-and-mortar retailers deliver the online and in-store customer experiences that keep shoppers coming back for more. From the distribution center to the checkout counter, the right edge computing infrastructure provides the foundation for success.
For retailers looking to optimize their edge, Edge Archetypes 2.0: Deployment-Ready Edge Infrastructure Models can provide a helpful framework to better design the critical infrastructure needed for the edge network.
Henk Ijspeerd is director of key accounts, retail, EMEA at Vertiv, a global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions.