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SD-WAN: A Digital Lifeline for Brick-and-Mortar Stores

This is not a series about how you need e-commerce to survive. While the pandemic has admittedly spurred an increase in online shopping, there is still – and always will be – a market hungry for the real thing.

That is not to say that brick-and-mortar shops can survive without rethinking how to reach their customers. That’s a constant in the retail industry. Successful stores are about those who keep up with changing trends by evolving, and at times, re-inventing themselves. This series reveals how retailers can continue to pull in customers in spite of competition (both online and physical), an uncertain economy, and even a pandemic.

Rethinking technology
Technology is the solution to many of the problems faced by today’s retailers. Customers spend 3.4 more times more on brands that both harness the capabilities of digital technologies and establish a physical presence, than those that stick to only one of the two.

Rather than posing a threat to brick-and-mortar stores, digitalisation opens a whole new world of opportunities to delight customers. However, as retailers adopt more and more connected devices and systems in their operations, so do the load of their local networks (often WiFi) grow. And while it might be easy to manage the internet connections of a handful of stores, connecting a chain of 30, 50, or even 100 outlets is a different challenge altogether.

Effectively managing all the systems and devices across your many stores, at scale, demands a different approach than simply equipping individual stores with a broadband internet subscription. Factors such as speed, security, visibility, and reliability become amplified the larger your retail network grows.

Software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN), a relatively new networking technology, offers a much-needed lifeline to retailers.

Big data needs a smart network
At one time, what stores knew about their customers resided in the shopkeeper’s head. Remembering names was considered good service.

Compare that to today, when stores know far more about their customers than ever before. Shoppers willingly provide retailers with their full name, address, and contact numbers. Many share even more personal data – their birthdate, I.C. numbers, or contacts of friends and family. With basic analytics tools and some IoT (internet of things) devices, you could make accurate assumptions about a customer’s type of home and business, previous purchases, and products they intend to buy.

Big data needs a smart network

Smart retailers are putting this data to work.

A private network for modern retail
Although most retail outlets have internet connections, they’re often limited to the point-of-sale (POS) system to facilitate transactions and delivery-service orders. Headquarters has almost no visibility and control over the connectivity within their stores. If the internet goes down, it might be hours or days before any remedial action is taken, resulting in lost sales, or worse, reputational damage.

SD-WAN flips this reality on its head.

As its name implies, it is a network that’s centrally controlled through cloud-based software. Unlike legacy, hardware-based networks, SD-WAN lets you link up all your branches in a private network and manage it from one, central dashboard. Applications, mobile devices, WiFi routers, users – you have full control of how each one of them is connected at your fingertips.

Where there was opacity and uncertainty around network utilisation and performance, there is now clarity and predictability. For once, retailers can now ensure that their stores and employees are adequately connected without breaking the bank. And where a technician took a day to set up the WiFi at a store, store employees can now do so in minutes by simply plugging in an SD-WAN appliance.

As retailers come to rely more and more on digital technologies, SD-WAN provides an intelligent foundation on which to connect their retail chains.

A network for you
Many of your competitors have already adopted or shown interest in SD-WAN, and this series will reveal the reasons why. It will make clear why the global SD-WAN market is expected to reach US$5.2 billion by 2023, and why, in Malaysia alone, SD-WAN offerings have skyrocketed over the past year.

The next article will demonstrate how a virtual network benefits retailers in real, tangible ways, from decreasing costs to boosting efficiency to enabling you to navigate smoothly through good times and bad.

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