Just how solid are brick-and-mortar stores? For every brand that closes a store, two others open a new one, according to an August 2018 IHL Group study. And certain segments — such as food and grocery, drugstores, convenience stores, and superstores and warehouses — see almost four openings for every closure.

Increasingly, what separates the winners from the losers is digital transformation. The brands that are opening new stores are packing their locations with digital signage, Wi-Fi navigation, Bluetooth beacons and other technologies that give shoppers the convenient, personalized experiences that drive loyalty and sales. In the process, those brands are successfully fending off e-tailers by creating experiences that are impossible to replicate online.

In Today’s Retail, a Failure to Plan Is a Plan to Fail

Planning is key for a successful digital transformation simply because there are so many options. Expansive choices for technologies, applications and customer experiences make it easy to implement the right technology at the wrong time.

It’s obvious, for example, that a great network is critical for enabling customer-friendly technologies. But retailers often misunderstand the specific qualities that make a network great for their purposes.

Suppose you want to give shoppers a mobile app so they can create shopping lists and receive aisle-by-aisle navigation to each item. To be great, your wireless LAN must blanket every square foot of your store. Achieving that, however, isn’t as straightforward as simply deploying a high density of access points. Too many can be as bad as too few because they’ll interfere with one another, sapping capacity and frustrating shoppers.

Hence the importance of a site survey, which balances coverage with capacity to determine the ideal location for each AP. This process is particularly important for warehouse clubs, home centers and other stores packed with tall metal shelves that can block Wi-Fi signals.

Planning also ensures that a retailer has enough capacity to grow and expand. Once customers jump on board with an app, for example, the next step might be to have the app trigger ads on digital signage when shoppers walk past a product that they searched for but didn’t add to their list. To enable those kinds of impulse buys, the WLAN needs enough capacity to serve those ads at the moment a shopper approaches — not several seconds later, when they’re already down the aisle.

Execute Your Digital Transformation Strategy One Step at a Time

The potential complexities of Wi-Fi, together with its huge potential to drive customer engagement, is one reason that retailers frequently turn to myself and my team for help in developing and executing a digital transformation strategy. We start with the IoT Envisioning Workshop, in which both IT and operations stakeholders have a seat at the table. The goal is to identify what’s possible in terms of customer experiences, business analytics and supporting technologies, as well as to incorporate steps to secure shoppers’ confidential information.

The myriad options and opportunities highlight the reality that digital transformation is a years-long process, not a one-time project. We like to help our retail customers think big and then identify which aspects to implement first. In some cases, the first steps are pilots, designed to show ROI and refine implementation across an entire chain. Other aspects are foundational, such as deploying a software-defined WAN to support each store’s WLAN, or making sure your data center can handle the traffic generated by apps and beacons.

Digital transformation, above all, is about envisioning a new and better future for your retail organization and then charting the right path to get there. Watch my video below to find out how CDW can help you progress toward your goals.

Now, learn how modernizing retail technology can support your digital transformation efforts by visiting CDW.com/Retail.