At time of writing, it’s 45 days out from Christmas but retail’s already seeing a strong finish to a difficult year – both online and in-store. According to the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) and Roy Morgan, overall spending will come in at an increase of 11.3% on pre-pandemic conditions ($58.8 billion) this year.  

We know physical and virtual modes of shopping have their advantages. For me, nothing replaces the tangible element you can only get in-store. I am an avid surfer and the make-or-break of buying a surfboard is based on seeing it in the flesh! On the flip side, an e-commerce website is available 24/7, giving me the flexibility and freedom to do my surfboard research beforehand.

One major lesson retailers learned during the pandemic is the importance of giving customers the best of both worlds. Failing to do so not only jeopardises the quality of the customer experience but retailers miss out on the opportunity to harness a treasure trove of data that is growing exponentially.

Retailers need to keep pace by being well equipped to handle the surge. This is the moment for retail reinvention i.e. implementation of solutions that are flexible, secure, customisable and cost-effective. And just as importantly, technology that also allows retailers to maintain control over their data and resources.

The answer is a simple yet challenging one: bring the best of e-commerce together with what consumers love about being in-store.

My last RetailBiz article discussed why retailers cannot make the mistake of overlooking in-store innovation. As customers have grown used to seamless online experiences, their expectations for equally positive shopping trips will follow them right back into physical stores.

There is an opportunity for retailers to amalgamate personalised, secure and safe shopping into a seamless package of online, in-app, curbside, and in-store experiences. This creates a need for smart technology by way of a future-ready infrastructure as a service (IaaS) solution.

What is IaaS?

IaaS is a cloud-based service that allows highly scalable and automated computer resources to be delivered to organisations virtually, on demand.

IaaS is growing faster than any other segment of the cloud services market, including Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). According to Gartner, the IaaS market in Australia grew 40.4 percent last year to more than $1.4 billion in total revenue, up from $1 billion in 2019. With a different perspective, Telsyte expects the total market to reach $1.74 billion this year given how much it has flourished in the pandemic-driven digital transformation rush. Both numbers indicate the rapid growth of this space.

The strategic advantage of implementing IaaS is that retailers have access to the latest technology that helps improve and streamline the customer experience, through a pay-as-you-go business model. What’s more, retailers can scale without upfront capital investments. Paying only for what is consumed gives retailers the agility and flexibility to scale as needed between peak and off-peak shopping periods. This helps keep focused on the bigger picture – thinning margins, increased competition and shifting customer loyalty – whilst reaping potential benefits such as predictable, renewable revenue streams and deeper insights on customer consumption patterns.

A future-ready infrastructure solution which combines edge computing with IoT platforms can be the foundation of a retailer’s intelligent transformation – something they need now more than ever to see them through this festive season. This financial year, we’ve seen five national retailers adopt this architecture.

Flexible IT is what retailers need to stay competitive

IaaS solutions are consumption-based models of computing services that help bridge the high demand and low demand worlds to improve the customer experience they provide through digital contact points. With a common hardware platform that runs applications at the edge or hybrid edge-core-cloud, retailers can reduce the time and budget spent managing technology so they can focus more on providing a great customer experience.

Edge computing extends a uniform environment from a core site to physical locations near users and data. As a result, data is not subject to latency issues and users benefit from more faster and reliable services. For example, multi-platform self-checkouts for the consumer and real-time tracking of critical infrastructure for the employee.

A common infrastructure solution also means that a retailer’s various edge locations can run both traditional information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) applications along with their new transformative Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The explosive growth of IoT has impacted all industries but in the retail sector, the most tremendous shift IoT has made is how it has unified store operations and made supply chain initiatives more efficient. At the same time, the amount of data being generated is higher than ever before and retailers need to exploit and use such data.

In this context the power of edge computing is clear: retailers can garner deep insights and predictive analysis in real time. This ultimately says why IaaS models are so important: it gives retailers a modern, highly reliable IT environment solution to do all that in a smart, consumption-based, efficient way.

‘Tis the season for new technologies

In today’s world the desire for reliable, scalable and agile infrastructure solutions continues to grow as businesses need new technologies to keep pace with the speed of innovation. For retail, this means being able to deliver a seamless customer experience across both online and in-store during the busiest shopping period of year.

Today’s customers are after more than just the traditional buying experience. They want to be catered to, engaged with and understood on a personal level – all in a way that is convenient to them. They also expect a positive experience whether it’s in-store or online. The good news for retailers is that this can all made possible by implementing the right technology with the right technology partner.

Nathan Knight is managing director for infrastructure solutions group at Lenovo Australia and New Zealand.