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GUEST COMMENT Why cloud networking infrastructure underpins the omnipresent customer experience 

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Nichola Glover, director at Citrix

We all know that latency across digital channels hits revenues hard. A famed Amazon study from over a decade ago found every 100ms of latency costs 1 per cent in sales. That study was in 2009; Gordon Brown was the prime minister and the Black Eyed Peas topped the UK and US singles charts. It was a very different time. But the importance of network connectivity to underpin retail sales remains, and post-pandemic, has intensified.

It’s been a difficult time for the retail industry – with the lockdowns resulting in many bricks-and-mortar stores being forced to completely redefine their businesses. Stores that relied on high street footfall and in-store engagement needed to create new ways of reaching their key customers. 

Fast-forward to today and while we’re thankfully out of lockdowns in the UK, the industry is still reeling from slow economic growth and a cost of living crisis that will further harm revenues and profit margins through inevitable reduced customer spending. So how can retailers safeguard their futures in such a time of volatility? 

Integrating bricks and clicks

While the pandemic undoubtedly exacerbated the reduction in footfall, we’ve seen a marked decline in the influence of the high street over the last 10-15 years. Yet the growing impact of ecommerce needn’t signal the end of the in-store shopping experience. Rather it should herald the beginning of a new era, acting as the catalyst to redefining the way we shop.

Physical stores need to integrate with the online shopping experience. Consumers still want instant results, so the basics of providing a simple click and collect process should play a key role within most retailers’ go-to-market strategies. But for this to work effectively, it means stores need real-time inventory management with integrated systems so those on the ground can tag products and update statuses in the moment using mobile devices. This means every store essentially performs a hybrid role, becoming a warehouse as well as a shopping destination.  

Diversify experiences

The most successful retailers have realised the importance of delivering a consistent look, feel and experience for their brand across multiple channels. Whether it’s in-store, online, through a web app or on Instagram or TikTok, customers will have several touchpoints with a brand during the buying journey – and these must be consistent in terms of experience and reliability.   

The market consolidation of retail brands has seen grocery stores such as Sainsbury’s incorporate the likes of Argos and Habitat. Moves like this immediately bring new value to shoppers, who can benefit from extended product lines, new products and new brands – all under one roof and available both online and in-store. 

We’ve seen multiple examples of this – from bookstores selling high-end coffee to more traditional clothing and food stores bringing in new and different brands to attract different audiences. With data underpinning decision-making, retailers have more access to what their customers want and how, where and when they want to buy it.     

Applying the personal touch

While we have access to more buyer, persona and customer data than ever before, it appears there is still work to be done for retailers to deliver truly personalised experiences for their audiences. Indeed, research from AI company, Coveo, found that just six per cent of consumers believe online shopping experiences are always relevant. The same report found the vast majority (93%) of buyers expect the online experience to be at least equal to, if not better than, in-store. So there’s a clear gap between what shoppers know is possible and their assessment of the state of play today. 

All of this requires an underpinning network that’s secure, agile and reliable. As retailers embed the likes of AI and data analytics to automate the process of delivering such personalisation, they must ensure they have the right infrastructure in place to act as the foundation of this innovation. 

For most enterprise retailers, this will typically require a shift to multi-cloud infrastructure, so they can ensure the seamless and frictionless delivery of content to customers through advanced and intuitive networking. Associated platforms then serve customers content and updates from the most local cloud data centre to them, reducing latency, improving the buying experience and therefore boosting conversation at the last hurdle. 

When you combine a seamless and speedy buying experience with connected data across multiple platforms, stores build a more complete picture of who their customers are based on their buying and engagement histories – and serve them products and services aligned to their interests.

It is this combined value – delivered through both in-store and online engagement – that will see the most successful retailers continue to thrive. Conditions have never been tougher for the retail sector, with their rivals just a tap or click away. But those who build the right infrastructure to underpin their digital delivery can truly transform their entire customer journey, delivering an omnipresent experience at scale – while maintaining their unique brand characteristics across multiple channels.  

Nichola Glover is a director at Citrix 

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