What’s in store for the future of retail? For many companies, it’s modernizing their IT department, optimizing inventory management and better serving their customers’ incredibly diverse preferences. Of course, connectivity is at the core of all of that. Maybe you (like many organizations across nearly all verticals) have already sought to give your connectivity  foundations a boost with peering. Direct interconnection is a great start — but what about optimizing further? Here’s where access Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) models come in particularly handy.

What’s Up With Retail?

The future of brick-and-mortar stores has been thought to be bleak — sometimes devastatingly so — over the past 15 or so years. A Great Recession coupled with the rise of online shopping, fueled by a blistering acceleration of at-home delivery, gave rise to speculation that physical stores would face the same fate as print media as more people got their information and entertainment from the internet. Then, pandemic-related restrictions came along and gave rise to more dire predictions. But the death of brick-and-mortar retail, it seems, was greatly exaggerated. In fact, Forrester predicts that 72% of retail sales will happen in store locations through 2024.

It remains undeniable, however, that the internet has transformed customers’ expectations and how retail operations are managed from the inside out, and NaaS can make the transformation to next-generation retail seamless and cost-effective. Here is a look at how retailers can leverage NaaS within our extended ecosystem of platforms, peers and providers to boost sales, improve efficiency and lower costs.

The Evolving Customer Journey

The customer experience is critical to retail, regardless of whether customers are shopping online, in store or both. Businesses need to ensure their online presence is seamless and highly accessible. For many customers today, shopping begins online even if they intend to purchase at a brick-and-mortar. Savvy shoppers will conduct research into the items they’re interested in before stepping foot into a store, look online for store locations, check into item availability and more. The best way to capture their attention and encourage them to take the next step is a great online experience that offers detailed product specifications and, in some cases, interactive photos or models of the products. Furthermore, some retailers use augmented reality to give customers an idea of how a pair of shoes would look on their feet.

Once shoppers have done their research, they are ready to take the next step, and they want options. Here’s where the magic of NaaS works wonders. With amplified network agility and connectivity, businesses can ensure a streamlined omnichannel shopping experience so customers can order online for home delivery, make a purchase for in-store pickup or go to a store and pull the item off the shelf themselves. Older legacy systems, such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), are inadequate to deliver a seamless omnichannel experience. They are also expensive, rigid and require a great deal of labor to maintain.

A One-Stop-Shop Solution

The flexibility and scalability of a NaaS solution makes it ideal for use in retail applications for a number of reasons, including bringing all locations — from retail stores to distribution centers to headquarters — on the same system. This will be important because automation and predictive technology are expected to increase in the industry overall as well. They can be used to track inventory to meet customer demands in real time, increasing efficiency and helping to cut down on inventory waste. It also offers a one-stop-shop to monitor sales patterns across locations, which could be used to inform decisions about what items to stock and how to market them.

Another application supported by NaaS is beaconing to leverage customers’ activity in a store. The network can gather data about customers’ activity inside a store using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and that data can be used to send discounts to their phone based on their location in the store and what their interests appear to be. How customers respond to such offers can also be used to gain further insights into how to optimize marketing.

Relieve Pressure On Retail IT Teams

A robust network is crucial to delivering the state-of-the-art customer experience that people have come to expect in today’s interconnected world, including those who will wind up making their purchases the old fashioned way. Businesses are aware of how the industry is changing and the pressures it will put on their IT teams, and NaaS can be the next great step toward meeting these growing challenges efficiently and cost effectively.

The beauty of NaaS (like the beauty of peering) is it can be tailor-made to support individual business needs, as well as adaptable to changes as they come. At 1623 Farnam (home of OmahaIX), we built relationships with leading NaaS providers Megaport, PacketFabric and Console Connect. They bring the expertise needed to transform network operations and take care of the heavy lifting so businesses can focus on their specialty.

To learn more about NaaS connectivity, click here.