The Future Of Retail Is At The Edge

In the quest to differentiate products by embedding more value into every retail sales transaction, savvy digital brands are creating new direct-to-consumer pathways that promise more connected and personalized shopping experiences. While these innovative “clicks to bricks” strategies can take different forms, they primarily function as the physical manifestation and digital extension of an e-Commerce brand.

Emerging from smart kiosks and automated boutiques, a new class of edge-retail solutions is becoming an important part of a modern brand’s omnichannel digital portfolio. For consumers, edge retail promises a more precise and tailored brand presence at various intersections of life, work and play. For digital brands, these solutions are economical to operate, adapt easily to changing market conditions and scale rapidly as demand dictates.

Even while gaining in popularity, an edge-retail strategy remains difficult to devise and deploy. A complex mix of technologies and methodologies must be integrated to ensure seamless, cashless transactions. Equally important is ensuring that brand messaging resonates, from initial customer engagement through product fulfillment. Last but certainly not least is gathering, measuring and leveraging massive amounts of data to optimize shopping experiences while ensuring a lifetime of customer value.

Here are five tips to inform the development of groundbreaking edge-retail solutions:


1. Meet Your Future Customers

Every retail trend begins — and ends — with customer engagement. Digital brands, in particular, invest heavily in getting to know and interact with digitally native consumers. It’s critical to understand that edge-retail solutions will appeal to a generation that has grown up using digital devices as their main mode of communication.

For this audience, an automated retail boutique is just another device to interact with — a large mobile device that delivers physical products. To build loyalty with this group, brands must establish a direct connection that’s continually nurtured through relevant brand messaging.

2. Location, Location, Location

One of the greatest advantages of edge retail is the unparalleled convenience of putting highly relevant merchandise in the immediate path of target consumers. As an example, the appeal of easy access to a completely automated boutique of name-brand sunglasses or premium suncare products in immediate proximity to desirable beaches.

For retail brands, the ability to experiment with new locations without making full financial commitments is a major driver. The opportunity for low-risk, low-cost entry points enables fast testing of new markets, as well as seasonal and targeted shopping experiences. As examples, an athletic apparel company could install edge retail in proximity to fitness facilities or open pop-ups at sporting events.

As part of its ongoing innovation in retail and services, Nespresso added an automated retail concept, called Nespresso Cube, to complement existing boutique and e-Commerce strategies. In pioneering this new way of shopping, Nespresso eased expansion into locations while offering tailor-made services to meet contemporary living and shopping preferences.

3. Building The Edge-Retail Platform

Perhaps the most daunting part of any edge-retail implementation is determining the ideal architecture to represent the physical manifestation and extension of the e-Commerce platform. The solution requires an intricate blend of complicated computing and communications technology, with robotics, advanced point-of-sale (POS) and intuitive human-machine interfaces. IoT connectivity to cloud services is required to ensure an uninterrupted continuity between physical and digital platforms. Security and compliance also must be given high priority as no compromise is permissible.

Integration with leading e-Commerce solutions such as Shopify, Magento and Microsoft Dynamics 365 can simplify supply chain, POS and marketing, but they require Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). And once built, brands need to maintain, service and upgrade edge-retail platforms to maximize uptime and streamline inventory restocking. Enlisting the help of a retail technology partner with strong industry experience and proven technical prowess can ease the burden while accelerating time to market.

4. Managing The Message

A fundamental attribute of edge retail is the ability to create a direct communications channel with existing and potential customers. For the most part, e-Commerce brands are messaging mavens, utilizing the latest digital tools to keep customers informed and invested in company and product narratives. Edge retail is an extension, following the e-Commerce lead in broadcasting content to respective edge-retail platforms remotely.

The ability to upload, manage, schedule and provision content dynamically facilitates delivery of customized messaging for specific buyer types and consumer groups. Enhanced cloud services can further amplify content planning via machine learning that uses feedback and sensing data to improve impact of generated content based on brand goals and objectives.

5. The Details Are In The Data

Machine learning and artificial intelligence play major roles in edge retail, as consumer data can be collected at the device as well as across an entire network of edge-retail devices. It’s much easier to improve decision making using real-time customer feedback on everything from product features to price and performance. Additionally, rapid insight into the process and experience enables brands to make immediate adjustments to boost customer satisfaction.

Nike has done a masterful job in this area, adopting sophisticated digital platforms and using analytics to deliver real-time insights into consumer buying behaviors and preferences. Hyper-awareness about its customer base is the linchpin of Nike’s strategy to serve customers “personally at scale.”

The increasing appeal of edge retail is the opportunity to take advantage of convenient, highly relevant brands in certain situations or points in time. Brand messaging shares equal billing with products as the ability to communicate and connect with buyers at the right time is as important as having readily available products in the right place.

Fred McCoy is SVP, Print and Retail Solutions Sector for Jabil, a $26 billion manufacturing solutions provider based in St. Petersburg, Fla. With more than 25 years of business management and international finance experience, McCoy is uniquely qualified to drive the development of emerging digital retail solutions while leading manufacturing services on behalf of global retail technology brands. McCoy also serves as Executive Director of Badger Technologies, a product division of Jabil that is transforming grocery store operations with a fleet of multipurpose autonomous robots.

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