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The importance of being Always-On in retail

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Customer data has become an integral part of the retail environment and the ability of stores to create a unique user experience. Having such data readily accessible in an Always-On world can often mean the difference between consumer favour and suffering significant reputational damage, says Rick Vanover, senior product strategy manager at Veeam.
“Thanks to the fast pace of technology innovation, and its associated ease of use, many consumers have become comfortable with having a more integrated digital and real world relationship with retailers. Whether it is a case of participating in online shopping or looking for specials at their closest outlet, the new world of retail has changed significantly over the past few years,” says Vanover.
Part of this change has been the growing adoption of the Always-On ethos. For retailers, this is about maximising uptime to provide the biggest shop window for consumers. Veeam’s Availability Report found that the average cost of downtime for a mission-critical application is just under $80,000 per hour. Getting back up and running quickly is therefore critical. For consumers, this means the ability to access a retailer site irrespective of device, location, and even time. If the website is offline or cannot create a customised experience according to their unique requirements, then they are likely to move on to the next company who can.
In fact, 70% of Availability Report respondents from the retail, distribution and transport sectors confirmed that application downtime can result in a significant loss of customer confidence.
“Retailers used to be built on a strong handshake making a good first impression. Today, the first impression is your website, availability of information, and how easily that can be accessed. Simply creating a place to host PDF versions of your catalogues is not good enough in the digital world.”
But it is not all about the online presence. Traditional retail outlets who are in remote locations also need to have technology in place to create a seamless experience. Often it is little things like entering information at a point-of-sale that make or break the consumer experience. If it happens fast, then the customer is likely to come back. If there is a delay due to an unresponsive data centre, then the chances decrease.
Looking beyond customer-facing technology in the retail environment, the modern data centre is also supporting the supply chain – a vital responsibility. Shipping goods from distribution centres to outlets is critical for success in such a fast-paced environment.
“If the data centre is unable to keep up with such always-on demands, then the entire business value proposition will be at risk. Decision-makers need to ask themselves whether there is enough availability and efficiency from a technology perspective backwards. In other words, are they tracking things such as where the goods are in transit, and what stock levels are in real-time, or as real-time as possible?”
Critically, Vanover feels, retailers are quick to invest significantly in their online stores. But when it comes to ensuring the quality and availability of the data centre, there are still some points of concern.
Giving impetus to this, the majority (71%) of Availability Report respondents from the retail, distribution, and transport sectors confirmed that the main business driver for data centre modernisation at their organisations is to enable 24×7 always-on business operations to cater for increasing user demands.
“The data centre in the modern retail environment fulfils a mission-critical role. Taking the steps necessary to make sure it is available and responsive to the requirements of a data-driven world should be the priority for any retailer,” he concludes.