Establishing the role of edge computing in retail starts with understanding the value of data-rich insights in unified commerce. Retailers have come a long way from analyzing Nielsen TV ratings and collecting feedback over the phone to aggregating online surveys. What remains unchanged is that customers want to be engaged wherever they feel the most comfortable. And ever since digital retail exploded, they also want to seamlessly switch between online and offline channels.

Retailers can collect and analyze data from any touchpoint with edge computing, be it touchscreen tablets at the physical storefront, in-store kiosks, smart shelves, or any other IoT device. Retail on edge implies that wherever there’s a customer application, there’s data intelligence.

 Retail on the edge – it starts with analytics

Traditional such technology has often meant monolithic on-premises applications that are connected via complicated point-to-point interfaces. They are going extinct due to their inflexibility in accumulating data from every customer-facing application. With edge computing, the computing process occurs in the same place as the data source or the nearest point to it. When compared to cloud computing, there’s lesser latency. Fused with unified commerce, edge computing helps modern retailers stay tuned to customer expectations in a dynamic digital-physical environment by leveraging each touchpoint to better understand their behaviour, intent, and shopping history.

Let’s look at a few instore use cases in which edge computing is the backbone of unified commerce – bearing in mind the amount of data that goes into and comes out of each touchpoint!

1) Best of both worlds – mobile apps and in-store

As earlier mentioned, “anytime anywhere” mobile shopping experiences have been here for a while. However, edge analytics up the ante by blurring the lines between physical and mobile channels while ensuring seamless transitions back and forth. For instance, retailers can place sensors inside their stores for tracking customer movement to assess store footfall and better manage space.

2) Smart brands sell on smart shelves

IoT-driven smart shelves don’t just ensure better inventory management – it also helps deliver excellent agent-free customer service. Retailers can showcase pricing, product information display and include customized offers to target customers based on their individual preferences.

3) Personalization is proximity marketing done right

With the proliferation of smartphones, beacon technology is on the verge of exploding big-time at a global level. Proximity marketing has already started paying dividends for future-thinking retailers. Harnessing wireless, beacon-powered devices, retailers can connect with customers and send personalized messages to customers through their smartphones and tablets.

4) AR and VR – the ‘in thing’ of in-store experiences

A recent report by Goldman Sachs revealed that worldwide Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in the retail market would reach USD 1.6 billion by 2025. They are not just adopted by new retail players for delivering immersive in-store experiences but to capture customer mindshare as well. Even legacy brands like Starbucks, Ikea, Lego, and Burberry with deep pockets promote their broad range of products, provide 3D graphic-rich personalized content, and improve customer return rate.

5) Turning interactions into transactions with smart mirrors

Smart mirrors are a win-win approach because they equal time savings for customers and effort reduction for retailers. Plus, they can increase foot traffic to physical stores. A smart mirror inside the store can empower customers with the ability to “try and buy” and increase their buying affinity with unlimited virtual inventory and strategic upselling.

6) Self-checkout – making a quick exit  

As indicated earlier, time is of the essence in the world of retail. Thanks to automated self-checkout systems, customers don’t have to tolerate long queues that make for unpleasant shopping experiences. Using a digital payment mode like a pre-registered credit card on the brand’s app, customers can quickly check out products, pay, and leave the store – feeling satisfied.

Flowing in these new-age customer-facing edge applications is a herculean amount of data. When a retail business deploys IoT devices, it must immediately start thinking about leveraging edge analytics. Otherwise, it’s like giving a customer a new channel to get in touch and then ignoring what they have to say. Now, that would be the antithesis of unified commerce!

Let’s address security and compliance

 It’s evident that physical and digital interconnectivity through edge computing helps create outstanding customer experiences. But lest the retail world forgets – it comes with complex challenges. The biggest concern is security and compliance.

Look at it this way. Interconnectivity also implies that there’s more data to be breached. On one side, customers have more access to data through retailer-owned edge devices. On the other, the retailer is more connected to the customer’s devices, thereby posing vulnerability threats in a shared network. It is of paramount importance that the overall edge computing infrastructure should have multiple security layers to safeguard both consumer and retailer data.

Conclusion

Last year, retailers faced tougher times than most businesses. Even today, customers continue to hesitate to leave their homes to shop, even for essentials. Hence, giving customers frictionless journeys across online and offline touch-points is the new normal.  In 2021, customers don’t just want to be in control of their shopping experiences – they also want retailers to stay on top of their needs.

So, no matter what they add to the cart, purchase, or showcase interest in, the retailer must be aware of it when the customer next engages with the brand.  The most crucial part is to offer this level of personalization, irrespective of when and where shoppers interact with retailers.

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Shifali Dumpala

Shifali is a content writer and has a passion for exploring technologies that impact everyday life. She majorly focuses on retail domain and handles various kinds of marketing content including white papers.