How many times has technology transformed retail's front- and back-end operations? In the past few decades, sellers have had to contend with online shopping, big data, cloud technology, social media, and numerous other disrupters. All that has made retailers wary of the newest must-have advancements.
Even so, SD-WAN is one technology that's definitely worth a look. At a high level, SD-WAN solutions bring considerable optimization to a retailer's network traffic, allowing it to make decisions and deploy changes that may have previously been beyond its grasp. For an industry with baked-in distribution, this could open the door to enhanced cloud tools, better communication solutions, or decreased per-location bandwidth bills — or all three.
Benefits and Challenges for Distributed Retailers
Cloud-based solutions have usurped older tools everywhere in retail, an advancement that unifies the organization more than ever but also places greater emphasis on IT resources in the process. If you want to harness everything cloud solutions offer, you'd better be able to pay for the bandwidth they require, assuming the required bandwidth is available across your locations.
Those last three words — "across your locations" — are of particular concern for distributed retailers. While shops in major metro areas may have access to high-end broadband tools, what about the stores in more rural locations? Is it worth migrating to expensive private-circuit solutions to ensure every store has the same tools and reporting capabilities? Is that even an option?
More concerning, the tools individual retail shops deploy often require consistent network connectivity. Even a brief period of downtime can wreak havoc on the larger organization's ability to track inventory, create documentation, and process sales — a weakness that can manifest everywhere from daily metric reporting to quarterly tax time.
A Case for SD-WAN Solutions
Now, consider cloud business communication solutions, a widely used class of tools among retailers, to see how SD-WAN can help with these problems. Because real-time communications place larger-than-usual demands on a network and require availability and consistency, they provide an excellent example of what SD-WAN can do.
If a retailer operates in a number of urban, suburban, and rural areas, it may use a phone branch exchange (PBX) solution, with each store working with a regional communication provider to obtain service. This is necessary due to inconsistent broadband options among stores. While the urban stores are near consumer- and business-class broadband providers, many of the rural locations are stuck with substandard options.
Because of this, maintaining a consistent phone presence — an important part of the overall experience — is expensive and often complex. Fixing errors in the exchange can result in finger-pointing from the regional providers. Similarly, though certain stores have cutting-edge cloud-based metric reporting and inventory tracking tools, rural stores may not have the bandwidth resources available.
SD-WAN solutions address these concerns in numerous ways. The bandwidth efficiency issue could allow the retailer to shed its regional providers in favor of a singular, centralized cloud communications vendor, paving the way to reduced costs and less complexity. Suddenly, the organization's bookkeepers pay one bill for phone service, while the company's IT team only needs to call one vendor in the event of problems or technical questions.
Taking the idea of savings further, imagine the company previously had many of its locations on a private circuit for data connectivity. Because many SD-WAN solutions check the line for favorable communications conditions and squeeze better performance from internet bandwidth, the company may be able to move toward commercial broadband products, saving hundreds of dollars per location per month.
SD-WAN tools can also address questions of consistency. With cloud communications, point of sale, and other retail tools requiring constant uptime, solutions that hop between networks to provide a consistent measure of performance are inherently valuable to a distributed model such as retail — especially when many such solutions can get adequate performance from backup solutions that are normally anything but, such as LTE connectivity.
As recent history shows, retail is more sensitive than most verticals to the wave of technological advancement. That makes a technology that provides so many perks in so many areas such an attractive proposition. Instead of forcing retailers into new channels, SD-WAN represents three high-level benefits any seller would seek out independently: cost savings, enhanced opportunity, and increased reliability and performance. As any retail decision-maker will tell you, that kind of technological change is always welcome.
Connect with a Vonage Business consultant for more ways SD-WAN can improve your retail operation.