Nearly one-third of all consumers and half of the parents in America started their holiday shopping before Labor Day, according to a survey from online advertising tech firm Rubicon Project. And a survey from marketing consultancy Epsilon, titled “Holiday Shopper’s Voice,” has more good news: Nearly nine out of 10 respondents — 87 percent — say they are very likely or somewhat likely to hit their favorite stores’ location to make their purchases.

What does that mean for retailers? It’s simple. Merchants need to be ready for the influx of shoppers, and networking technology plays a central role in that readiness. To that end, retail IT decision makers should be mindful of every milepost when it comes to their customers’ shopping journeys, both online and offline. The best place to begin is — where else? — in the store.

Can Your Technology Handle the Traffic?

Make sure you aren’t left unprepared just when you need to rely on your infrastructure. Test your existing point-of-sale system and device hardware, payment systems and roving card readers to ensure they both readily connect to your existing infrastructure seamlessly and work efficiently.

How’s your store & guest Wi-Fi? Do you have the right access points to be leveraged not only by the sales systems but also the Wi-Fi your guests are trying to use? You should consider the vast amount of consumer devices walking into your store throughout the holiday season. Perform a test run to ensure customers and associates — and their devices — can get online and operate easily without interference or making your store network vulnerable to attack.

Is It Safe? Follow These Security Measures

When it comes to Wi-Fi, system security is paramount. Why? Public auditing firm Deloitte puts it best: “With Wi-Fi, the second a shopper walks into the store, the point of sale expands from the register to the customer’s smartphone.” Stores should never run all traffic over a single access point and customer-facing Wi-Fi should remain separate from the retailer’s corporate Wi-Fi. If you don’t, you could open the network to additional security risks.

A pre-holiday security evaluation should also be performed in-store as well as the back office to determine whether transactions can be conducted safely and to double check that customer information is indeed kept confidential. Nothing will ruin a holiday selling season more than a data breach. And while IT shouldn’t give anyone too much information about exactly what you’re doing from a security standpoint, it’s a good idea to tell employees and customers that security is paramount and that they can feel safe while working or shopping with you. That protection — and reassurance — should extend to your online presence as well.

Where Will You Turn for Help?

When network traffic and storage requirements heat up, do you have adequate back-up and storage available in a pinch? Cloud-based vendor partners offer the scalability you may need to survive the peak traffic of the holiday shopping season. The time to act on this critical step is now, before you’re left navigating a network or server crash in the early morning hours of Black Friday.

Are You Giving Shoppers What They Want?

Recent research I’ve seen points to the fact that customers — your customers — want to be able to order online and pick up purchases in-store. In fact, digital marketing vendor Listrak’s recent consumer survey found that six out of 10 customers either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that being able to shop online and pick up in-store actually influences where they will make their holiday purchases.

Are you as ready as you can be to offer the best customer experience to support this service? Ask yourself, even if you are not 100% there yet, is this challenge one you want to attempt in a short time frame?  Retailers have only one time to make that great first impression, so consider the consequences if your store isn’t yet well-equipped to offer Pick-up-in-Store.

Make sure you’ve got the right technology in place so that associates or employees who will interact directly with customers using this service know exactly what to do to turn those customers into repeat purchasers or add-on buyers.  Will they be able to service them as they walk into the door? Do they have the technology that can track inventory and call for the merchandise to be brought up?

Your training becomes even more crucial when hiring temporary, seasonal workers who will need to be brought up to speed quickly. Ensure training documents and onboarding software are available and accessible online, and that all of the endpoint devices used to access them — whether tablets or traditional PCs – are set up securely.

While all of the steps on my holiday prep list may sound like a lot of work, remember that it’s far better to prepare diligently than to spend hours or days dealing with problems when you’ve got a store full of customers.

Happy holidays! To read more about how retail can connect with shoppers, download “The Connected Retailer.”

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