The retail transformation that began with online shopping is entering a new phase, with consumer demand for convenience pushing curated shopping into the mainstream.
The many reasons consumers shop online – immediate access to large inventories, the ability to more easily compare prices, the ability to shop at any hour – are ultimately about saving time. With no driving to shops, finding a parking spot, and physically navigating stores in search of what’s desired, online shopping is convenience without precedent. Retailers who excel at delivering a great online customer experience have a distinct competitive edge over those who operate at a lower level.
Over the past few years, a new class of innovative retailers are taking that time-saving convenience to a higher level with curated shopping. The best curated shopping sites are the online equivalent of having a personal stylist who knows each customer’s tastes, proven likes and dislikes, and preferred spending levels taking care of the shopping process.
One of the best-known is Stitch Fix, which employs an army of remotely located fashion experts. The customer initiates the process by visiting the Stitch Fix website, filling out a detailed style profile, and picking a delivery date. Stylists then select a clothing assortment for a “Fix” sent to the customer, who can try items on at home, keep items of interest, and return the rest at no charge.
It’s a roaring success. In its Oct. 2017 IPO filing, Stitch Fix listed sales of $977 million for fiscal 2017. At the time of this writing, Stitch Fix’s market capitalization is $2.067 billion. And this is just one player in a fast-growing retail category.
A shopping movement made for data analytics
The success of manually curated shopping has driven the inevitable rise of automated curation, powered by data analytics. The growing shift from brick-and-mortar to online shopping has given retailers tremendously valuable data sets, including footprints of individual customers’ shopping habits and preferences.
Given sufficient data, analytics engines are amply capable of performing the same tasks that remote stylists perform today for Stitch Fix, and with much more ready scalability. As retailers amass greater amounts of digital breadcrumbs, analytics solutions are more accurate at predicting and delivering satisfying curated shopping baskets for its customer base. Automated bots can create a lifelike experience that is fully informed by purchase histories and demonstrated preferences.
Impact on the WAN
The transformation of retail to digital dynamics – online shopping, curated shopping, mobile shopping, and shopping by voice – places merchant WANs at the center of retail business. The need for retail bandwidth is increasing at an accelerated pace. Any retailer that has experienced a significant outage knows all too well that the resulting losses in revenue, internal productivity, and customer satisfaction can be devastating.
These dynamics are hastening the end of traditional wide area networking, and platforms that were never designed to perform at such a high level of data delivery and reliability are being quickly retired in favor of software-defined WANs. Retailers that have already transitioned to SD-WAN are now enjoying far greater operating efficiency, high availability and bandwidth, new levels of visibility and control, and unprecedented agility than those still waiting to convert.
Retailers that have not yet made significant progress in pursuing SD-WAN should accelerate their efforts. The transformation of retail is moving full steam ahead. Those who are unprepared from a network perspective will be left at the station.
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