Anyone who has ever worked in retail is familiar with the saying "the customer is always right". And in today's omnichannel retail environment, it might be more accurate to say, "the customer always has choices." Because there are so many options available for consumers to interact with retailers today, the implications of not delivering consistent, secure, “always on” experiences are more profound than ever.
Customers interact via online and digital channels with retail businesses every day; whether making purchases, browsing inventory, or checking on the status of an order. And the moment a business’ website or mobile-app isn't available, or the experience is degraded, that customer may simply move on. As a retailer, if you aren’t providing a consistent experience, the customer can easily go somewhere else that is. This lost revenue may only be for a single purchase –or—you may have lost a long-term customer due to just a single bad experience. In this era of abundant options, “inherent loyalty” isn’t as much of a reality and with the propensity for consumers to let others know about their experiences through social channels, your brand’s reputation may be on the line.
Over the last year, this need for an effective and reliable digital presence has become even more essential. The only way that many retailers—whether shops, restaurants, or other businesses—could reach their customers was through websites and apps. For most retailers, online transactions became their primary form of revenue, and as a result, they were forced to double down on digital innovation initiatives. The biggest surge in investment was in new or expanded e-commerce capabilities, with mobile applications having the next highest increase as they became the primary platform for serving customers during COVID-19. As nearly one-third of consumers in the U.S. became first-time users of contactless payments during the pandemic, we can safely assume this isn’t a temporary change. In fact, contactless card payments in the U.S. are projected to increase eightfold between now and 2024, with mobile proximity payments also rapidly rising.
As retailers worked quickly to expand e-commerce and loyalty apps to interact with consumers, they also needed to support the infrastructure and technology behind services like drive-thru, delivery, curbside, and BOPIS to keep business flowing. This required the implementation of reliable and consistent connectivity to provide “always-on” experiences, manage inventory and supply chains, and provide remote access for employees.
The biggest challenge? Many businesses lacked the flexibility to reliably and quickly access their digital footprints while also accommodating to shifting consumer needs and evolving traffic patterns. Remember, it’s not just about online interaction or instore experiences but a marriage of both. Services, such as curbside pickup or online orders and delivery services, require scalable network bandwidth and constant uptime. They also need the ability to pivot resources quickly, such as dynamically allowing non-business critical traffic to take a back seat to customer service operations.
That is why software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) has emerged as a revenue-generating and revenue-protecting investment for retailers. By ensuring always-on connectivity and creating more flexibility to keep up with changing business needs, SD-WAN allows retailers to provide the best possible customer experience when it comes to digital availability and paves the way for new revenue generation.
For years, many retailers had deployed a second "back up" circuit to connect retail locations as an insurance policy, so that if their primary internet failed, they could still “limp along.” But in today's environment, limping along may not be good enough. Retailers have to make sure that they're not just asking “Is my connection up?” but also “Is it still supporting my customer experience?” Because the moment that experience changes due to degraded connectivity, you may not notice immediately but your customer will.
Retailers need fast and scalable connectivity to enable seamless transactions in support of sales, inventory, purchasing, and other activities. But traditional WAN connections linking retail locations, warehouses, and suppliers can turn into a slow, expensive obstacle that lacks both flexibility and security. From an app standpoint, backhauling cloud traffic through a central network hub can seriously slow down SaaS performance, diminishing user experience and impacting application service level requirements. It also prevents the “turn-on-a-dime” responsiveness that competing in today’s digital marketplace requires.
SD-WAN offers a more flexible approach to connectivity that provides faster performance and better visibility with a lower total cost of ownership. SD-WAN also allows for greater choice when it comes to connectivity. Retailers spend a lot of time looking at costs, and very often their wide-area networks (WANs) are seen as an expensive but necessary recurring cost. With the right SD-WAN solution in place, rigid and costly connectivity, such as MPLS, can be replaced by more affordable broadband connections without sacrificing performance or security.
But connectivity alone isn’t enough. SD-WAN often replaces the enterprise-grade security provided by the core data center with a stripped-down alternative. Retailers need a Secure SD-WAN solution that combines networking and security, without unnecessary overlays or complicated bolt-ons, making it possible to quickly onboard sites using a templated approach. This converged approach also enables network and security policies to be woven together into a unified solution from the beginning; improving the overall visibility, control, and security effectiveness for retail operations.
If retailers select the right SD-WAN solution, they should quickly or even immediately see a return on their investment. If they select the wrong solution, the penalty can be high. Because retailers often operate with razor-thin margins, total cost of ownership (TCO) should be top of mind in any deployment. For IT, this means manual management tasks and overhead costs should be eliminated whenever possible. Taking a unified approach minimizes TCO by containing upfront acquisition costs, ongoing fees, and labor for installation, maintenance, and upkeep.
That is also why security needs to be an important consideration when selecting an SD-WAN solution. Properly securing an infrastructure that incorporates SD-WAN requires a solution that addresses network performance while delivering robust security. Inefficiencies in threat detection and/or response can undermine the company’s investment or even the ability to respond to security threats at speed and scale.
Any SD-WAN solution can provide savings by transitioning away from expensive MPLS connections to more flexible and affordable broadband. But when you consolidate security, routing, dynamic SD-WAN connectivity, wireless access, and built-in LTE redundancy into a next-generation firewall—where everything operates using a common operating system for centralized management and orchestration—only then do you realize the savings that go far beyond a more cost-effective integrated solution.
Selecting a Secure SD-WAN solution should provide capital equipment savings related to WAN edge consolidation with no bandwidth-based pricing limitations. Such a solution should also reduce operating expenses via simplified deployment, management, configuration, and automation capabilities that help to reduce manual tasks and improve productivity. While cost is always a driving factor, retailers who want advanced connectivity without sacrificing enterprise-grade security should consider all of these aspects when evaluating solutions and calculating their return on investment.
Find out more about how Fortinet offers retailers a broad set of network and security technologies that are seamlessly integrated and automated to help retailers secure digital transformation initiatives.
Take a security-driven networking approach to improve user experience and simplify operations at the WAN edge with Fortinet Secure SD-WAN.