Why being cloud-enabled is crucial for the retail industry

Newer technologies have managed to change just about every aspect of life and shopping patterns are no different. No longer are standalone brick and mortar stores the sole focus of retail with “omni-channel” being the latest buzzword. Additionally, the retail sector is constantly challenged by the ever changing and evolving ecommerce industry.

One such technology revolutionizing the industry is cloud. At a time when retail companies are being burdened by costs of legacy infrastructures, weighing down their digital transformation, cloud is the way to go.

A migration to cloud, partially if not completely, will help these companies save time, money and manpower otherwise required to run a legacy infrastructure. According to research firm Gartner, the Indian public cloud services market will grow at a pace of 37 percent to reach USD 1.7 billion in 2017, reflecting that the Indian market is responding to this growing demand for cloud.

What does it mean for retail companies? For starters, while no one is predicting a ‘cloud only’ environment, most solution providers will soon start assuming that companies are at least ‘cloud capable’, driving home the need for a cloud strategy for everyone. So, if retail companies have to leverage digital transformation and stay in the game, their IT strategy must include cloud focused projects.

Online stores, analytics and an omni-channel experience

According to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), an omni-channel approach will drive the retail industry’s growth to reach INR 171,800 crore (USD 25.7 billion) by the year 2020 from INR 87,100 crore (USD 13 billion) in 2017 at a CAGR of 18.39 percent. Companies now need to leverage cloud computing to grow their business beyond setting up more physical outlets. Several large Indian retail companies already have online stores to combat the rapid growth of online shopping among consumers, driven by an even more rapidly growing internet culture.

Wi-Fi enabled stores are another way to leverage an omni-channel presence to serve customers in more than one way. With newer and extensive 4G coverage, companies can enable customers to connect to the store’s Wi-Fi and browse the store’s catalogue to look for availability of sizes and colours, saving up on time and effort.

Retailers are now using several solutions like footfall analytics, NFC, RFID and beacon technology to further personalize shopping experiences for customers. Wireless point of sale systems can also be used to provide better convenience to customers when it comes to payments.

Analytics is also being leveraged to understand shopping patterns for strategic product restocking. The need to gauge customer satisfaction integrated with actionable customer insights is one of the major factors impacting the retail cloud market. A personalized approach coupled with efficient methods to shop is a sure shot way to better consumers’ shopping experiences.

Apart from customers, a cloud-enabled retail company will help in-store employees as well as the backend developers. Instead of scouring storerooms for that one orange shirt in size 12, shopping assistants can just track an item on a cloud-based inventory on outlet computers or even on their own smartphones.

With appropriate solutions, retail companies can set up collaboration tools for employees and drive customer engagement as well. The right solution will help retailers in several ways, from setting up an online store, to easy payment methods for customers, this is a one-step solution retail companies can look at.

‘Smart’ stores, the right combination of cloud and analytics and the rampant growth of smartphone usage together can transform retail into a ‘no-sale missed’ industry.

Business challenges

No technology comes without challenges, and cloud adoption is no different. Most retail companies have legacy IT infrastructures, set up and running for several decades. The biggest challenge in migrating to cloud for this industry is to be compliant and transparent while transferring consumer data.

While availing public cloud services, security is also a very big concern for these companies. Each retail company houses a large repository of critical data and an airtight layer of security needs to be one of the top priorities when migrating to cloud for the safekeeping of this data.

Retail companies often have massive amounts of data, including seasonal information, market dips, product catalogues, inventory data, buying behaviour and even customer profile. Data is good, but without actionable insights and analysis to help the company’s future strategy it is just information. Hence, a cloud migration plan has to be accompanied by a good analytics tool as well.

The roadmap

The way forward is cloud. Gartner predicts that by the year 2020, a no-cloud policy will become as scarce as a no-internet policy of today. With technology companies slowly moving away from a “cloud too” perspective, and heading towards a “cloud first” perspective, latest solutions becoming more and more cloud-centric.

Additionally, thanks to ecommerce and increasing adoption of mobile technologies, traditional shopping patterns have turned haywire. While brick and mortar stores are not going to disappear, retail companies without an omni-channel approach might face difficulty in staying ahead in the market.