Transformation to a fully networked retail concept requires a fundamental rethinking of the network needed to support new retail processes and consumer behaviors.
The retail industry is exploring new areas such as the store of the future, how smart shelves can improve the supply chain, and in transforming the buying experience. The main focus so far has been on achieving a tighter integration between mobile payment systems and consumer behaviors but what role will heterogeneous networks play in creating the networked retail experience of the future?
The first wave of networked stores has eliminated checkout cashiers, introduced product specialists in the back, and enabled staff to focus on helping consumers buy the right products. The backroom store of the internet already attracts knowledgeable customers and serves as a warehouse carrying the full product portfolio with all possible configurations and variations. The networks that support this are often based are leased lines to the store and traditional wireless LANs on the premises.
It is easy to pull this off with a couple of network wizards in the back of the store, but this is not always the case. Expansion into a fully networked retail concept requires a fundamental rethinking of the network needed to support this transformation. The network must support busy weekend hours and must work smoothly without support from on-site staff.
Reliability and the zero-support of a networked retail experience are driving the development of heterogeneous networks in shopping malls in a new direction – away from best effort wireless and legacy copper backhaul infrastructure to small, ultra-reliable WiFi/3G/4G cells with fiber backhaul.
This is only just the beginning so my predictions for the future are the following: * There will be a shift in focus, especially for shopping mall developers, from networks that primarily support the buying experience to networks that optimize the selling process as well as the buying experience. * Store owners and mobile network operators will form partnerships in order to realize their networked retail visions. * Mobile offload solutions for in-mall traffic will be replaced by in-store revenue securing mobile network environments for multiple radio technologies. * Paper-based retail tools such as in-store promotions, credit card slip management, etc., will lose traction to large digital promotional screens and more extensive use of tablets, phablets and smartphones by both sellers and buyers.