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How retailers are enhancing the checkout experience with edge computing

by jcp
gawdo

Rajarajan Srirangarajan, Lead Architect – TCS OmniStoreTM

Customers today expect a far better in-store experience than before. 65% would like to scanitems and see product information on phones, 50% want contactless payment options, and 20% are ready to use augmented reality magic mirrors to try on clothing. [1]

Such advanced and immersive technologies powered by the internet of things (IoT),sensors, andanalytics can help retailers bridge the gap between in-store and onlineexperience while providing troves of real-time data to drive business outcomes, suchas improving customer lifetime value (CLV) and increasing sales and conversions.

Many retailers are unable to seize these opportunities as they struggle with thefundamentals of the checkout experience, including performance and availability issuesresulting from long wait times, and a lack of digital capabilities such as a productlocator, rich product content, and in-storepersonalisation.

To achieve a high-performing and uninterrupted in-store checkout experienceacross all channels, store infrastructure must be equipped for heavy processing andhandling large volumes of data transfer to central instance. Edge computing can give retailers a strategic advantage in the highly competitive retail landscape by enabling a rich in-store checkout experience with lightweight, open-source technologies.

Challenges with legacy systems and transformation with cloud and microservices
For decades, retailers were relying on a monolithic and store-centric approach for in-store checkout,

which forced each store to act as a datacentre having primary and failover servers. Besides impacting the time to market of new features, it resulted in a complex store hardwarefootprint, requiring high manual intervention, maintenance costs, special tools andsoftware, not just to distribute and deploy new releases but also to monitor infrastructure across theretail estate. Also, new releases required heavy change management and cutover activities at stores,impacting the time to market.

To reduce the high upfront infrastructure and maintenance costs and be more agile, several retailers have shifted to modern architecture with microservices and cloud technologiesthat can be scaled on demand and offer high availability with near-zero maintenance needs. Cloud architecture poses a fresh set of challenges, primarily around performance caused by networklatencies between stores and the cloud, and availability. This has a direct bearing on customerexperience, brand value, and profits of the retailer.The key limitations of cloud architecture for in-store are:

  • Resiliency: Downtime due to service and network availability
  • Performance: Network latency, causing speed issues
  • Cost: High stress on network and bandwidth needs
  • Digital: Lack of digital capabilities at stores limiting online-like rich, personalised shoppingexperience at stores

Next-gen checkout experience withedge computing

To overcome the above challenges and deliver on the customer expectations for performance,

availability, capabilities, and flexibility, data and processing must be closer to the edge (stores).Leveraging edge computing as a complementing technology to cloud computing not only saves time

and money, but also solves latency, bandwidth, autonomy or compliance issues (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Edge architecture complementing cloud

With edge computing, the central cloud capabilities are extended to the edge by leveraging a central

container-based orchestration platform that can seamlessly manage the edge nodes (network and

storage equipment), and, thereby, software rollout/upgrades and associated configurations. Edge

computing can handle applications and workloads for thousands of store locations by running

computational power through nearby edge nodes rather than risking data transfer speed and

bandwidth challenges by accessing all services and data directly from the cloud.

Retailers can also realise a scalable checkout service that can support multiplechannels and deliver next-gen in-store experiences (see Figure 2) with key capabilities such asrich product content, visual search, voice assistants, contextual recommendations, fraud detectionusing computer vision, and cashier-less autonomous checkout.


Figure 2: A Gen Z’s in-store digital customer shopping journey

Delivering a seamless customer experience

Delivering seamless next-gen retail experiences will be about bringing processing and data closer

to the edge and harnessing the power of analytics to be responsive, agile, and customer centric.

Edge computing gives a high level of redundancy to process all transactions at the storeitself, enabling a highly available and performant checkout experience at the stores.About the author

RajarajanSrirangarajan, Lead Architect – TCS OmniStoreTM, has 20 years of experience in the

IT industry and has worked with several leading global retailers in building transformational solutions.His current focus is on cloud and edge computing, and sustainable retail.

[1]GlobalData, ‘Retail in 2021 and beyond: Trends and solutions with edge computing’ (05 Apr 2021), accessed May 2021,

https://assets.lumen.com/is/content/Lumen/retail-now-and-beyond-global-data-and-lumen?Creativeid=7565f693-a342-4b14-b8f0-0fa1c40dbd9f

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