Top retail technology trends of the tech revolution

March 14, 2024
Jon Lloyd
Practice Principal

On the Retail Tech Revolution podcast, Justin Rice and I discussed the importance of reliable and secure networking for retailers—focusing on the common challenges, network downtime impact, and SD-WAN and SASE’s role in enhancing network reliability and security. We emphasize the importance of wireless connectivity, edge computing, and patch management in retail environments.

Tech Talk: Building the “storefront of the future”

Today, networks are critical to successful retail operations. In modern retail, “everything is a computer connected to the Internet.” POS systems, scanners, Internet of Things (IoT) cameras and sensors, employee and customer mobile devices, and laptops connect to the Internet in modern retail storefronts. Retailers rely on these disparate systems to manage inventory and staff effectively, market to customers, and even monitor metrics such as foot traffic and shop time via IoT cameras. However, as network functionality in supporting retail technology and devices has improved, the attack surface has also increased. Each device represents a potential vulnerability.

In this post, we’ll review retail technology trends and highlight the key points from this recent tech talk focusing on the importance of retail infrastructure, specifically around the reliability and security necessary to modernize storefronts and propel them into the future.

Why is network security so crucial at the store level?

Trends in retail technology are heading towards integrated storefronts, or “smart” stores. In other words, almost every system relies on the network: self-checkout kiosks, POS systems, intelligent planograms, security, and even HVAC. That technology stack becomes necessary for whatever a company adopts.

Fortunately, over time, networking has moved away from slower and costly MPLS networking systems to virtualized SD-WAN that boosts network speed and reliability by relying on multiple transport channels. For example, a retail outlet may depend on numerous forms of broadband and 5G to ensure the system stays up and fast.

Networking has become much easier for retailers to administer. However, its importance and the impact of not performing at its peak are far more significant. That’s why retailers need access to the latest security tools. A bad actor can wreak havoc in an improperly secured network, and retailers bleed cash as they lose access to vital systems.

Additionally, scalability is a concern. Retailers need the ability to quickly, reliably, and securely onboard (or shut down) new store locations.

What considerations do retailers make when it comes to networking technology?

On the podcast, Justin and I worked through common thought processes when deciding on their technology strategies.

In Justin’s words, “If I need a flexible consumption model. I need a provider to have capital and operating expense versions of whatever I buy from a networking perspective. But even more than that is reliability—always-on networking, just like your power and water. It needs to be always on.”

Retailers must consider the “three P’s” when planning what technology to adopt next. People, Process, and Progress: The right people following the right process means your company will progress. Justin stresses that accounting for your goals in these areas is essential. Create a tech implementation strategy that will support those goals.

Another important consideration for retailers is the technology refresh life cycle. No technology investments will last ten years. Some years, the focus is on making infrastructure upgrades with capital expenditures, while others may take on an operational focus. However, any new infrastructure updates will take boots on the ground in the stores to install servers, sensors, and edge devices.

Read more: Cloud for retailers: Leveraging technology to increase sales revenue

SASE in the SD-WAN landscape

When considering the evolution of retail technology trends, bandwidth is an essential frame of reference. In the previous generation of networks, MPLS systems connected elementary functions and devices. MPLS was a private connection that had to backhaul traffic through retail headquarters and the company firewall.

Now, bandwidth has expanded to accommodate the complex functions of modern storefronts–self-checkout, customer wayfinding on personal devices, intelligent shelf plans, IoT devices, and AR-enabled functions like digital wardrobes. SD-WAN boosts bandwidth and creates higher reliability for these systems. However, security is crucial in this distributed environment. And that’s where SASE comes in. Secure access service edge (SASE) is the next step in the evolution of store networking. As CBTS defines it, SASE combines SD-WAN networks with Secure service edge (SSE) cloud-based security tools. One thing that SASE accomplishes is it moves the firewall to the Cloud.

The local area network in retail

Security is a crucial technology trend for retail local area networks (LAN). Handheld devices often aren’t password locked. Additionally, the high turnover and shift changes inherent to retail mean that devices and consoles have many users. I recommend securing retail scanners and devices using the following technologies and best practices:

  • Zero-trust security.
  • Network segmentation.
  • Single sign-on.
  • Identity access management and governance.

Sensors, including IoT devices, are the next security concern—all things currently deployed that require low latency or better coverage. 5G connectivity, private 5G CBRS (citizen band radio services), is taking over those handheld scanners. By using private 5G and low latency, networks need to build a mini data center in each store to handle all computing transactions. Therefore, retailers must focus their network on the edge compute stack now and into the near future.

Read more: LAN infrastructure from CBTS gives a boost to retail growth

Patch management

Because today’s stores are more connected than ever, patch management is urgent for securing emerging vulnerabilities and sensitive data, such as credit card information. However, neglecting patches across devices is an enormous vulnerability in the retail sector. The more locations a retailer has, the more attack points there are.

CBTS offers Patch Management as a Service, which offloads the tedious and challenging prospect of patch management from retailers. CBTS provides a service level agreement (SLA) of a guaranteed 95% success patch success rate for your devices. We typically see a 40–50% successful patch rate in retail. However, CBTS offers a 95% SLA, and our success rate averages closer to 97.1% as of last year. It’s a huge impact and gets patching off your plate.

Future-proofing your retail network

In today’s retail industry, it’s common knowledge that storefronts must keep up with the latest technology trends to stay competitive. However, for those not directly involved in IT, such updates can be disruptive to the day-to-day functioning of the store. It’s essential to have a future-proof network infrastructure that can help monitor and troubleshoot the store remotely without interrupting the daily operations.

Future-proof technology ensures that the store stays up and running smoothly and generates revenue for the business. Therefore, it’s crucial to work with a partner who can provide cutting-edge technology solutions while also being mindful of the store’s need for uninterrupted functioning.

CBTS is deeply experienced in working with every type of retail establishment. Get in touch to learn how to secure your storefront’s critical network.

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