There is no denying that traditional brick-and-mortar stores have faced significant changes over the last few years. A shift in consumer shopping behavior toward a preference for online experiences has only accelerated due to COVID-19, the effects of which has caused a large number of already struggling retailers to close their doors for good in recent months. As of August 2020, over 6,000 stores have closed due to bankruptcy, according to marketplace.org.
Structuring IT for long- and short-term agility is critical for retailers to keep up with dramatic market changes, serve loyal customers, and bolster brand affinity.
Let’s take a closer look at which digital solutions are enabling dynamic retailers to survive—and thrive—in this evolving business environment.
A shift to online
The ease of online shopping was accelerating at pace, even before the pandemic struck. Browsing a large variety of products on the go, along with one-click purchasing capabilities, has led to larger basket sizes and more frequent purchases. From adding to the grocery list while riding the bus to snatching up a great promotion for a designer shirt during a lunch break—retailers offer convenience by integrating digital experiences into their target customers’ everyday lifestyles.
With the challenges of shopping in physical stores this year, and the need for a bit of retail therapy, consumers have flocked to online retailers. From July to September, consumers spent $199.44 billion online with U.S. retailers, compared to $145.47 billion for the same period last year, an increase of 37.1%.
While the long-term effects of the pandemic on the retail industry are not clear yet, in the short-term, the shift to e-commerce has put an additional strain on online platforms, as consumers stay indoors and order groceries, clothes, and other goods online. For example, vegetable deliveries in China grew 600% year-over-year during the Lunar New Year in 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic there. Likewise, JD.com, China’s largest online retailer, reported a 215% increase in online grocery sales, representing 15,000 tons of food, during the first ten days of February. The impact for retailers broadly from this increased online demand falls into the categories of network capabilities, robust online channels that can support spikes in online traffic, and connected operations that can not only pivot quickly but provide bottom-line cost savings.
Adjusting to new realities
The pandemic is also requiring that retailers pivot how they think about serving their customers in-store and online. The challenge is to figure out how to maximize engagement in-store, despite additional precautionary measures, while leveraging digital tools to blend online and in-store interactions.
Shoppers value friendly and welcoming service, speed, efficiency, and convenience—but delivering on these expectations can be challenging while meeting safety standards during the pandemic. Solutions such as mobile PoS capabilities that eliminate long lines, digital displays that enable self-service, and cameras to monitor occupancy can help.
Retailers who are doing well online can take advantage of lower traffic in stores to upgrade their IT infrastructure to support such tools. Such an investment will continue to pay dividends even after full scale reopenings by creating differentiated experiences—enabling retailers to not only survive through the pandemic, but also to emerge with a competitive advantage.
As we look forward to the future of retail, it’s critical to rethink how we engage with shoppers. With the help of agile IT and the right digital solutions, retailers can enable a seamless experience for their customers and stay resilient during volatile times—supporting customers in whatever way they want to shop, may it be in-store or online.
Subscribe to our blog to find out how you can stay competitive in our retail series. To learn more about why Meraki is a great fit for retail, check out our retail webpage.
Cisco recently hosted their annual Virtual Manufacturing Summit—which included manufacturing executives, solution providers, and industry thought leaders—to address the ways that manufacturers can provide a safer and more secure workplace while maintaining high levels of factory uptime and worker efficiency.
The two-day event focused on how IT and OT groups within manufacturers must work closely to ensure safe and reliable operations while increasing productivity and profitability. During the Summit, Cisco’s SVP of Global Manufacturing and Logistics shared best practices around business resiliency in a post-pandemic environment.
The summit also included a breakout session with Bossa Nova Robotics, a Cisco Meraki customer. Founded in 2005 as a spin-off from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Bossa Nova is a developer of advanced robotics technology designed to enable retailers to collect and process real-time intelligence about their inventory. The robots autonomously roam store aisles multiple times per day to confirm that each product is on the right shelf and has the right price. Bossa Nova’s robots are currently operating in over 350 stores globally.
During the session, Todd Shipway, Director of IT & Robot Communications at Bossa Nova, discussed how they leverage Meraki solutions in conjunction with robots to monitor the plant floor for safety and security. Shipway discussed the need to automate as much as they can in a post-pandemic world when it comes to manufacturing. He also discussed how Cisco Meraki has impacted their workflow during the pandemic and beyond.
As Shipway puts it, “As of right now we are 99% remote. The robots are still there and being tested and the Meraki solution has allowed us to keep an eye on our infrastructure.” To learn more about how Bossa Nova utilizes Meraki, explore their case study.
Learn more about Meraki products and explore how our solutions address critical manufacturing scenarios by visiting our website to get a deeper dive.
The future of healthcare is arriving at light speed in the form of tech innovations bursting with potential to upend how care is delivered and consumed—ultimately reducing costs, improving patient outcomes, and ensuring more equitable access to services globally. As organizations speed up their digital transformations and push closer to realizing these dreams, they must remain vigilant to security risks that imperil progress and ensure their systems are robust enough to handle new technology. With IT teams stretched thin thanks to COVID-19 response, hackers are hungrily circling.
These promising technologies, and others like robotics, nanotech, cloud, and quantum computing, will be familiar to anyone keeping their finger on the pulse of how healthcare may soon be transformed. These technologies are hovering over nearly every sector of our economy, materializing in day-to-day operations whether you are a manufacturer, a financier, or a retailer.
In fact, the world’s struggles with COVID-19 have squeezed previously unhurried plans for digital transformation into pressure-cooked timelines spanning mere days and weeks for many organizations. Entrenched roadblocks to progress like legal barriers, basic assumptions, and fear of lost competitiveness have crumbled by desperate necessity.
A prime example of these trends has been the sudden acceptance of telemedicine, which the healthcare industry has long flirted with but never eagerly embraced until now. Others include the widespread adoption of digitally enabled practices like remote patient monitoring, using technology to ensure compliant social distancing and contactless engagement, and the acceptance of virtual collaboration tools. And if you doubt that medical facilities will ever fully espouse a truly digital destiny, I present exhibit A: a high-tech, paperless hospital that offers a successful blueprint for facilities of the future.
Clear and present dangers
All of these technologies require a robust IT backbone to support their deployment and use, as well as to protect against the worrisome shadow of cyber threats. All of them will create prolific troves of data (much of it personal) that will prove irresistible to cybercriminals—who, by the way, are already laser-focused on the healthcare industry.
Hospitals and clinics are plum targets for heartless hackers because patient data is needed for life-or-death decision-making, and often needed quickly. The value of this data can literally be measured with human lives. Medical facilities are particularly vulnerable to a type of threat known as ransomware attacks—where trojans infiltrate victim networks and encrypt the data, rendering them unusable until a ransom is paid. In fact, just a few days ago, the FBI warned of imminent ransomware attacks against hospitals, and a handful of care facilities have already fallen victim. With COVID-19 stretching the bandwidth of harried IT teams, the calculus of hackers has been that now is the time to maximize profits. As a result, healthcare organizations everywhere have been reporting a worrisome uptick in threat activity.
As IT departments are being asked to do more with less, laying a secure (yet flexible) IT foundation is critical, not only to protect against cyber threats, but also to ensure that new digital technology investments perform at their peak. Ensuring this foundation is intuitive, easily managed from afar, and extensible with APIs and turnkey integrations can give IT admins peace of mind. Not only will they be able to support their networks without overwhelming them, but they’ll also have future-proofed their investments with a platform that can respond with new options and offerings when market demands arise. No one wants to substantially invest in solutions that are one-offs or that need to be tossed after a year or two of use because they’ve become rigid and out-of-date.
Necessity is the mother
Inventions have a way of arriving at their most critical hour of need, whether vaccine or VPN. For IT heroes bravely holding the line against malware hordes and the physical threats of a merciless pandemic, thoughtfully deployed technology can make all the difference to the tide of battle.
The efforts that hospitals and clinics are making to become more digital, more connected, and more actively data-driven are only the beginning. The pace of change speeds merrily along whether we want it to or not, and organizations that dig in their heels by resisting digital transformation and dismissing new methods of caregiving may soon find themselves obsolete in ways that hamper their broader missions and goals. But for those organizations seeking to be well-positioned to capitalize on the cost savings, efficiencies, and healthier patient outcomes that nearly-here innovations will unlock, investing in digital transformation and smart IT platforms is a good first step.