COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns, panic buying and a changed lifestyle for many, forced huge change on Australian retailers in 2020.

Many retailers were able to pivot quickly. Large retailers like Kmart were able to turn some of their sites into ‘dark stores’ for click and collect purchases. Coles opened pop-up distribution centres to help rectify supply shortages after panic buying in parts of the country. Some Westfield shopping centres offered combined click and collect options with individual retail stores in their centres. Many luxury wear retailers transformed their offerings from high-end fashion to must-have loungewear, getting creative and streaming remote loungewear fashion shows to promote their products to consumers.

These examples are testament to the retail industry’s resilience and creativity. While the industry and consumers value what these fast-thinking, innovative, industry-leading retailers have been able to overcome and achieve, now is the time for the wider retail sector to look at ways they can continue to survive and thrive in the new world.

So what is going to enable the leading-edge retailer of the future? It’s the next wave of network transformation which enables connectivity with greater simplicity, agility, and security – it’s called Wireless WAN. 

What is wireless WAN?

Cellular wireless has always been ideal for business continuity and connecting critical assets in places wires can’t go, like vehicles, field forces, and remote kiosks. However, today’s cellular networks are more pervasive and getting faster, especially with the deployment of 5G. These developments are ushering in the Wireless WAN era and giving rise to wireless becoming the preferred broadband connectivity for branches, stores, and other fixed sites — the last exclusive domain of wired networks.

The adoption of Wireless is growing in Australia and within the retail industry. Organisations value the flexible and unified approach that Wireless networking technology brings when connecting people, places, and things anywhere. In an Australian Telsyte study last year, Cradlepoint found that 97% of Australian companies are currently using or planning to adopt wireless, in the form of LTE and 5G.

This statistic is not surprising. Wireless saves cost by avoiding re-wiring if a network needs to be relocated within a store for example, it enables pop-up stores or non-traditional floor layouts – think the recent development of new ‘click & collect’ pick-up locations that may be out of range of store Wi-Fi.

Bang for your buck         

Nemertes Research recently interviewed technology leaders at 12 companies in the U.S. and Australia, 40% of which were in retail. The report found that Wireless WAN is a massive cost-saver, driving a 90% reduction in the cost of baseline network connectivity services compared to wired networks.

It also reduces the wait for setting up services by a factor of 1,000, delivering in less than an hour what normally takes more than a month. This is especially important in today’s world. For example, most stores and consumers prefer card versus cash payment to avoid handling of money, so a retailer can’t afford to be offline. Similarly, retailers can pivot strategies quickly and create pop-up stores and distribution centres.

What should retailers do today?

To get started on a Wireless WAN journey, retailers need to determine their needs. Do you need to flexibly move locations or employ an isolated network to support business needs away from production networks? Do you need to deploy a network quickly that can’t wait for a wired connection?

Determine the needs for your premises. For example, the needs for a retailer that has many smaller locations will differ to one that has many larger locations. Do you have IT knowledgeable staff onsite? Do you have the capacity to manage multiple devices or will it only work if you have on managed device?

Even if your primary wired connectivity is meeting your current needs, retailers can benefit from having a secondary wireless connection to maintain network uptime, avoiding the risk of loss of a key revenue driver if your wired network goes down.

More than keeping lights on

While as a nation, we haven’t historically been at the forefront of online retail, the events of the last year have turned this trend around and Australian retailers have largely risen to the challenge. Moving forward for many retailers, additional features that create an immersive shopping experience will set them apart in an increasingly competitive industry.

Where Artificial Intelligence used to be viewed as a concept only, in apparel for example, brands are already using AI to enable shoppers to try on clothes virtually. This will appeal to shoppers who may want to limit time spent in change rooms or avoid store entry altogether. Similarly, magic mirrors offered by cosmetics companies could see make-up counters change forever, as shoppers are more conscious of tester hygiene or prefer to try and buy products from home. Finally, people spending more time working and playing from home has increased demand for home redecorating. More and more furniture brands are offering augmented reality apps, enabling shoppers to see how pieces look and fit in their home space and enabling instant click and purchase, making the process easy and reducing the need for physical store visits.

While many of these applications exist already, they require high bandwidth, low latency networking and Australian retailers are the first in the world to be able to take advantage of 5G for Business networking solutions.

Regardless of the path taken, the time to invest in Wireless WAN is now. The retailers that do will not only come out of this pandemic with success but will also lead the way in their industry for years to come.    

Gavin Wilson is managing director for Asia Pacific at Cradlepoint