Hughes

Retail’s COVID-19 Technology Challenges

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Retail Technology
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For many businesses, the past year has been full of impressive technology deployments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In less than a few months, or in some cases weeks, restaurants and retailers have rolled out substantial new digital capabilities, such as mobile ordering, curbside pickup, QR code menus, contactless payment, and third-party delivery integration. While these new technologies have enabled many businesses to survive, they’ve also introduced a meaningful liability—dependence on the store’s or the customer’s connection to the Internet.

Before the pandemic, the customer experience at many of these businesses was simply enhanced by the Internet—without a connection, customers could still shop or order food, and most POS systems supported offline credit card transactions. In other words, stores and restaurants could still serve their customers.

That changed with COVID-19. Now, without an Internet connection, the customer cannot scan a QR code, browse a menu, or order a meal, and employees cannot receive mobile orders. With COVID-19, the Internet has become a bottleneck for the store experience!  As more restaurants and retailers become dependent on third-party delivery platforms to engage with new customers, losing connection to the Internet translates into immediate and long-term financial losses. With third-party delivery, ordering from another location is just as easy as ordering from yours, so first impressions are important. Once a customer has had a positive experience with one business, why would they return to the business they had trouble ordering from?

The good news is that complete Internet outages are rare, and installing a backup connection can help prevent this. The bad news is that network issues such as congestion, packet loss, and latency are common and can be just as damaging to the customer experience. These can still result in mobile orders failing to reach the restaurant, customers not redeeming their loyalty rewards, and employees receiving blame for something that is beyond their control.

Today, online retail accounts for 14.1% of all retail sales. With COVID-19, especially in places where indoor dining is banned, some restaurants report that digital orders account for over 70% of sales. This is a stark difference—intermittent interference with 14% of a store’s revenue stream can be inconvenient; disruption of over 70% of a store’s revenue stream with a “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t” Internet connection could ruin a business.

As COVID-19 exposes businesses’ dependence on the Internet, retailers need to look beyond generic business Internet service plans and consider managed SD-WAN solutions. Managed SD-WAN compensates for inconsistent Internet performance to provide a consistent, enterprise-grade customer and employee experience.