Ed Durbin, global director of retail solutions, VMware
The Edge might be more familiar to many of you as the guitarist in the Irish band, U2. But, when it comes to retail, it’s something far bigger than one individual and certainly more rock and roll.
We find ourselves here because of the events of the last 18 months. If there was any question as to how digital transformation – and specifically, retail at the Edge – represented the future of the sector it has been answered. The impact of which I discussed with a panel of our esteemed experts, Muneyb Minhazuddin, VP of Edge Computing; Kevin Willey, Senior Solutions Architect of Retail Edge; and Charles Cockshoot, Solutions Engineer for Retail, at this year’s VMWorld.
Maintaining retail momentum
When it comes to retail, the pandemic has caused massive swings in consumer demand and unanticipated spikes in e-commerce in everything from loo roll to fence paint. But in an environment of lockdowns and restrictions, it meant that technology became vital to retailers’ ability to serve customers despite massive disruption.
Which brings us to today. As consumers are becoming comfortable with returning to normal activities, retailers face the challenge of maintaining the momentum of their e-commerce channels while simultaneously attracting consumers back to stores. Indeed, with a base of technology already established, it is a situation that is forcing retailers to consider how best to serve their customers at any time, on any channel and in any location.
Pandemic driven changes
This is the moment the Edge enters to rapturous retail applause. However, whisper it quietly, it’s not a new concept. For example, way before COVID came about, many retailers had introduced or expanded self-checkout capabilities and Amazon had its own checkout-free store concept. We were already seeing activity move to the Edge. It’s just that it has simply been accelerated beyond all expectations.
Retail has always been the pioneer for the Edge with the need for POS, then it was workloads for employees, then distribution – all of which used to be managed via data centres or in the cloud. Looking ahead, the momentum will continue as retailers invest in and adopt more and more technologies in order to deliver a best-in-class omnichannel experience. This is because speed, service and simplicity is the order of the day. Retailers want (and need) data processed locally and in low latency.
The renaissance of in-store
Like almost everything in retail, the reason for this increasingly voracious appetite for the Edge, is the consumer, who still reigns supreme. Serving them almost solely via eCommerce has been necessary for 18 months but whether it’s as a fulfilment centre, experience destination or simply a physical front, the role of in-store is having a renaissance. These destinations can perfectly augment the digital exchange by offering services online simply cannot – exclusive events, influencer meetings, personalised fittings, specified delivery requests and so on. The list is almost endless but it is here where a retailer can curate activity and bring a brand to life.
As we emerge from the pandemic, we’re seeing shopping emerge as a social experience with an unrivaled enjoyment about being in-store and the ability to touch, examine and compare products. It has been a key part of our culture that has historically been taken for granted but is now a critical component of the retail ecosystem and one that we’ve only just begun to capitalise on its potential.
Same language, different speed
This is where the Edge is making a massive difference because retailers need to engage the consumer at their speed. Historically, retail has operated incredibly well and efficiently at its own pace but customers walking into stores have a completely different rate of decision making – what do you buy, how much of it, can you buy it cheaper elsewhere, do I have or need complimentary products etc. Both buyer and seller have been talking the same language but at vastly different speeds. One of the real advantages of the Edge is an ability to redress this issue and to empower retailers to make decisions at a rate much more replicable of the consumer which is going to massively boost engagement.
In an era of heightened awareness around safety and security, it can also help customers feel safer in stores as they return in greater numbers with consumer expectation having evolved markedly around areas like; scanning items and seeing product information on their phones, contactless payments and augmented-reality “magic” mirrors to try on clothing. Again, the Edge makes all this possible. Then there is the associate time to consider. In order to engage with customers, help fulfil their needs and do so in the context of providing a great and personalised experience they need to be equipped with applications that empower them to do it. This needs to be real-time and on a familiar device.
Global information with local context
The Edge is going to allow retailers to move forward with every element of their operations and it is going to be the foundation from which they build back post-pandemic. It will enable them to add new applications fit-for-purpose in today’s environment but simultaneously provide a base from which to establish future-proofed practices. Like any foundation, once that is right and secure, it means building on top is much easier on everything from integrating with in-store end points, AI, ML and personalisation technologies, fulfilment and shipping and customer intelligence.
It’s why we developed the VMware Edge compute platform, which we launched at this year’s VMworld. You can read more on that here but, unlike our heritage in a huge cloud environment, this platform will enable retailers to run global information but at a local level. It’s the best of both worlds scenario that’s tailor made for the world of retail today.
A retail inflection point
While the retail industry is at an early stage of adopting Edge computing, it is at an inflection point: There is still a great deal of opportunity for growth. Innovation is happening at an almost unprecedented rate and we expect what we’ve done in the cloud for the last ten years to now to be at the Edge for the next ten and I, for one, am delighted to be here when it’s happening.
You can hear more on our discussion by watching our VMworld session: Retail Edge: Retailers power new in-store experiences with edge technology here, just log in or register and look for the session ID: EDG1574. If you want to know more about the VMware Edge compute platform you can do that here or, if you just need to speak to VMware about how we can help your organisation best adopt Edge technology, you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To close I would simply sum up our discussion on the Edge with the following words: “it enables you to make that great decision about the next best action you can take to run your business”.