Retailers are most challenged by creating innovative in-store experiences that meet consumer expectations, increasing demands on network bandwidth and emerging cybersecurity threats, according to a new report from Extreme Networks and Retail Systems Research (RSR).

However, despite three-quarters (75%) of respondents saying demands on network bandwidth were a major concern, the study found that the most successful retailers have leaned into Wi-Fi solutions to improve both in-store experiences and overall store operations.

Retailers believe a cutting-edge in-store shopping experience is critical to success. 92% of retailers say that Wi-Fi is integral to offering a cutting-edge in-store shopping experience and more than half (54%) say it has significantly improved in-store experiences.

Close to three-quarters (72%) of retailers are using Wi-Fi to drive store operations but only 32% of retailers say their Wi-Fi network is state of the art, while 57% say it’s just ‘good enough’.

Though retailers understand the need for technology to remain competitive, deploying and managing new technology is a challenge. 94% of retailers said there is endless demand for bandwidth on their constrained networks, creating technology adoption challenges; 75% list this as their top challenge.

The overwhelming majority (88%) of retailers say that adding and managing new devices on the network is one of their biggest challenges. 72% of retailers say they would prefer a single network that can handle any/all future devices and deployments, yet only 17% say they strive for a consistent technology profile across all their stores.

Almost all (96%) retailers claim that Wi-Fi has been instrumental in improving store operations to automate and streamline key processes such as virtual warehousing, loss prevention, electronic shelf labeling, digital displays, temperature monitoring, inventory management and more.

Retail Winners – defined by above average YoY sales growth (industry average comparable store/channel sales growth of 7%) – think about technology differently when compared to retail respondents with average or lagging sales.

More than three in five (63%) of Winners say in-store Wi-Fi has improved both customer order fulfillment and returns handling, while just 26% of all other retailers agree.

Winners ranked cashierless checkouts (70%) and self-service kiosks (66%) as most important after Wi-Fi, compared to 41% and 43% of all other retailers, respectively. More than half (55%) of Winners said they had satisfactorily implemented in-store Wi-Fi for consumers, compared to just 31% of all other retailers. 

RSR managing partner, Brian Kilcourse said,“Our research found that the most successful retailers have leaned into Wi-Fi in a way that helps them overcome challenges like employee communications, merchandise management, customer order fulfillment and an increasing demand from consumers who want the in-store experience to be modern and dynamic. Those that have made the investment in their network are seeing that directly impact the top and bottom line.”

Extreme Networks chief operating officer, Norman Rice (pictured) added, “The results of the research are clear: leaning into technology to create engaging and impactful in-store experiences drives better financial results. Extreme helps retailers create the store of the future – with the network as the strategic hub of experiences and efficiency. The connected store is no longer the future, it’s the now.”