Retailers have never had this much on their plates. In the era of ever-changing and evolving technology, there are more opportunities to engage customers than ever before, but the constraints of time and money make it nearly impossible for retailers to run their core business while simultaneously becoming tech wizards.
The problem is that that tech wizardry is more necessary than it’s ever been. During and even before the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers have been forced to digitize. So as competitors (and in turn, fraudsters) flood the digital retail space, it’s become essential for online sellers to partner with other companies that can provide two things: personalization and security.
Personalization and security under one roof
“What you should expect between now and the next several years is that all of your networks will move to a high-speed, broadband, reliable underlay with some form of software-defined networking and a security layer on top of that,” said Glenn Katz, senior vice president and general manager of enterprise solutions with Comcast Business, speaking at this year’s NRF Retail Converge conference in June.
That first component – the development of fast and reliable software-defined networks – relates directly to personalization. With a stable network in place, it becomes far easier to collect analytics that can be used to reach potential consumers more effectively. Take the case of Comcast Business, for example.
“We have an enormous amount of visibility into what people are doing in their homes,” said Vice President of Strategic Development Marc Siry, “but we can extend that out to their trips and voyages around a shopping district or to and from retail locations.”
By setting up a network underlay using software-defined wide area networking (SD WAN) and Wi-Fi applications, Comcast Business is able to provide retailers with analytics on consumer behavior at home, on the run or even within stores themselves.
But as online fraudsters and hackers become increasingly sophisticated, protecting the network becomes just as important as establishing it. That’s where the second component – a layer of security – comes in. Software-defined networks lend themselves to cloud security, which is exactly what some companies have begun employing to protect their services.
This convergence of network-as-a-service and security is an example of what’s known as secure access service edge (or SASE), and it’s the future of online retail. Gartner estimates that “by 2024, at least 40% of enterprises will have explicit strategies to adopt SASE, up from less than 1% at year-end 2018.”
SASE helps retailers lighten the load
Other companies are coming up with their own versions of SASE. For instance, one-click checkout provider Bolt partners with independent retailers to provide a personalized and secure single sign-on (SSO) checkout process by linking users’ Bolt accounts with their store accounts. In doing so, the company offers the user a digital shopping experience that centers around their activity and identity on the retailer’s site while simultaneously simplifying fraud detection.
Partnering with SASE providers effectively extricates the responsibility of digitization onto those companies, which can open up a world of possibilities for retailers.
Comcast Business’ offerings, for example, can be used to greatly enhance the in-store experience of customers through technology. The company has been partnering with retailers to implement new personalized measures like QR codes, Wi-Fi pathing of customers’ shopping routes and targeted pop-up ads that appear on consumers’ mobile phones as they shop. All of these maximize the potential for retailers to use digital data from mobile phones as a way to drive sales in-store.
SASE can also be used as a way to generate habituation and brand loyalty, like in the case of Bolt and its one-click checkout. Bolt’s SSO model provides a low barrier to entry for its users, streamlining the entire shopping process and making digital retailers look more attractive.
“According to American Express, 69% of American customers would spend more on a company with better customer service,” said Bolt Chief Customer Officer Tina Fan, “and customers with an emotional relationship with the brand have a 300% higher lifetime value.” With a service like Bolt’s that enhances customer interface, digital retailers have seen checkout rates on their websites rise by more than 60%, according to Fan.
SASE products are helping to ease the burden on retail CIOs. For decades, retailers have had to choose between strong networks with poor security and weak networks with great security. Now they can have their cake and eat it too.