How to Create Hyper-Aware Stores for Enhanced Experiences and Better Business Outcomes

Learn how retailers such as Tractor Supply and H-E-B are continually adapting to offer new services and solutions to their customers.

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By Gerri Hinkel, Director of Solutions and Vertical Marketing at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

Competitive pressures for retailers to gain and retain shoppers are at an all-time high due to an uncertain economy, demanding customers, and the explosive growth of e-commerce due to the global pandemic. These challenges are a constant and a forcing factor for stores that must innovate even amidst uncertainty.  

In this environment, savvy retailers like Tractor Supply Company and H-E-B are creating hyper-aware stores – leveraging each respective network to do more than connect devices and secure payment data. Edge IoT devices such as sensors, cameras, and voice communicators, combined with contextual details such as location and identity, can provide real-time insights to understand space utilization, improve customer experiences, and drive better store operations.

As part of the 2021 National Retailer Federation (NRF) event held virtually, Glenn Allison, VP of Technology and Innovation for Tractor Supply, and Derek Walsh, VP of IT Operations for H-E-B, joined Aruba for an online panel on January 19 to discuss how to create a hyper-aware store environment that can improve operations and create exceptional shopping experiences.

During the session, Tractor Supply and H-E-B shared how they were able to:

  • Improve customer experiences and expand curb-side pickup
  • Quickly deploy new devices for associate voice communication and grocery pick-up
  • Improve process around pre, during, and post pickup
  • Add outdoor Wi-Fi for community and student access
  • Scale and adopt new technologies quickly across hundreds of stores in all geographic footprints
  • Improve space utilization and cleaning processes
  • Improve food safety programs with IoT-enabled temperature monitoring

Looking ahead, Tractor Supply and H-E-B are also exploring future innovations through a variety of pilot programs, including:

  • Experimenting with cameras located near big-ticket items with the ability to signal an associate to help.
  • Identifying other new security camera use cases including improving security controls and shrinkage.
  • Shelf-stock monitoring and geofencing capabilities.

Adopting frictionless shopping principles with scan-and-go customer purchasing. 

From these conversations and others with key retail partners, Aruba has identified a handful of steps retailers can take to improve customer satisfaction and business operations.

Five Key Steps for Creating Hyper-Aware Stores

Start with great Wi-Fi. Retailers simply can’t afford to have poor network performance. Customers and associates alike need their respective devices and applications to work and work well. Customers must not only be able to seamlessly connect to the store network, but associates must also be able to use their devices to find the appropriate goods and services to assist customers swiftly. This includes ensuring IoT-enabled store solutions like check-out point-of-sale (POS) devices, product scanners, scan-and-go apps, and digital signage have reliable connectivity.

Extend indoor services outside. Quality network performance must also extend beyond the store footprint. With the popularity of curbside pickup and the need to provide touch-free experiences, or for restaurants, year-round outdoor dining, many retailers need to extend Wi-Fi outdoors through outdoor-specific access points without compromising connectivity to applications and devices that associates need and customers demand. For instance, associates need mobile POS systems and inventory scanning devices to assist customers indoors or out, while maintaining secure connectivity to payment transactions.

Don’t guess on application performance. Effective connectivity and mobility are now considered table stakes, but the applications that customers, associates, and warehouse staff use must also perform flawlessly. IT needs a real-time view of the end-user experience, whether that’s customers, associates, or other mission-critical staff, with clear action steps to resolve any issues before a service ticket is opened.

Gain a competitive edge with IoT. Mobile readers, sensors, smart shelves, and other IoT devices can empower retailers to maintain accurate inventory in real time. Footfall sensors and location beacons provide real-time analytics for contextual and personalized offers while supporting a safe shopping experience. IoT can even play a role in predictive machine maintenance to get ahead of potential issues and deal with them during the appropriate times.

Spend your time on innovation, not on network management. It is rare for every store to have an IT staff member, but every store at some point will get bogged down in network management, rather than innovating with new digital use cases. A cloud-native, single-pane-of-glass network management solution can enable IT staff to work remotely while maintaining visibility and control over all vital network services. This may include the need for retailers to scale back the network when the need for temporary drive-through or pop-up services pass – or scale up quickly as needed. Whether the site is a store, warehouse, or corporate headquarters, IT must ensure a secure, high-performance network across all locations, including remote worker home offices.

At the end of the day, one of the key roles IT can play is being an integral part of the business outcome discussions – and developing a network that supports new use cases for driving better experiences and efficiencies. Through an effective networking paradigm, retailers such as Tractor Supply and H-E-B are continually adapting to offering services and goods to customers that balances the need to abide by current health and safety protocols while ensuring a quality customer and associate experience, including curbside pickup, same-day delivery services, upgraded company-wide associate voice communications, or even a new customer mobile app. 

To learn more about Aruba’s networking solutions for retail, please visit our site.

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