By Matt Pillar, chief editor
Not even halfway through the second quarter of 2017, news cycles have been dominated by the demise of stalwart retail brands like Kmart (down 108 stores) and Sears (down 42 stores) and the continued woes at Macy’s (down 68 stores) and JCPenney (down 138 stores and 6,000 employees). It’s not just department stores that are bleeding out. Store closings at specialty brands like hhgregg, MC Sports, Gander Mountain, Radio Shack, The Children’s Place, Payless ShoeSource, and more will collectively wipe thousands of stores from the retail landscape in 2017.
But it’s not all bad news. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing IRT editorial board member Jim Thompson, CFO at Cavender’s, at Retail IT VAR of the Future, a channel IT event produced by our sister publication Business Solutions magazine. While relatively small among the failing giants cited above, Thompson proudly announced the opening of the chain’s 78th store just weeks ago. Cavender’s is growing, in part, because company leaders there recognized when it was time to look beyond the POS.
Don’t get me wrong; for retailers, transactions are supremely important. The plumbing and infrastructure that facilitates transactions are incredibly important, too. But POS implementation decisions and payment processing application choices aren’t what kept Thompson and his colleagues awake at night. They knew that if they spun a roulette wheel marked by the top dozen or so POS platform providers in their vertical and chose to implement whichever slot the ball bounced into, it’s highly unlikely that gamble would put them out of business.
What is keeping retail executives like Thompson up at night is the relevance of the store in the greater context of the customer experience. If there’s any gnashing of teeth among corporate brass at Cavender’s, it’s due to the palpable and urgent need to lay an infrastructure that extends the already incredible, personal experiences provided by its store staff into the 21st century and replicating those experiences to a growing base of mobile customers. That’s why Cavender’s recently wrapped a major SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) initiative. That solution will allow the Cavender’s network to dynamically choose the most appropriate link — MPLS, Internet, Ethernet, or LTE wireless, for example — based on application priority and real-time performance conditions. As merchants like Cavender’s roll out more customer-facing mobile and loyalty applications, mobile POS, and associate-held mobile devices to facilitate enterprisewide customer data and inventory lookup, the performance and security of the underlying network infrastructure is mission-critical.
Note that the POS — mobile or static — is just one node on the store network. The store itself, for that matter, is merely a facilitator of those nodes, much like an e-commerce site is a facilitator of pages, products, data, and functions that facilitate customer experiences and, ultimately, sales. The POS is no longer the nucleus of store operations. Today’s retail growth is found elsewhere, both within and beyond the four walls of the store. Tapping into it requires a cerebral, holistic approach to IT that facilitates knowledge and enables experiences, not just transactions.
The store? It’s not dead, but it’s playing a rapidly shrinking role in consumer mindshare because, by itself, it can’t capture the hearts and minds of a digitally seasoned shopper. That’s where unified commerce comes in. Interactive digital signage, geolocation, omni-channel inventory management, flexible fulfillment, smart mirrors, endless aisle kiosks, customer engagement and loyalty applications, omni-channel clienteling, and, of course, integrated e-commerce are just a sampling of technologies that support the concept. Those technologies and the network infrastructure that supports them are the new POS.