Despite the headlines of poor health on the high street, recent research shows that physical retail will still account for 80 per cent of sales globally by 2025. So how do physical retailers best leverage their key competitive differentiator – their store network — in an increasingly tough market? The answer lies in the need for change, and this includes from an IT perspective.

We know that to meet growing customer expectations, new in-store experiences will be required. They will require innovative new technologies in order to satisfy this demand — including RFID, VR, AI, or frictionless check-out solutions such as those being trialled in the Amazon Go store in Seattle.

To deliver any new services successfully, retailers must replace their existing IT infrastructures with newer, agile infrastructures that transform the ‘retail edge’. They must move to a strategy that views the distributed store estate as an integrated whole that is managed from a central point, rather than as a collection of disparate and dedicated in-store systems with individual management needs.

This implies that powerful distributed, automated and virtualised in-store technology is necessary to securely run multiple applications, peripheral hardware and more in-store. And while this technology must deliver many of the benefits of traditional cloud architectures, it also needs to be in-store rather than in-cloud — the reliable and secure delivery of the shopping experience to customers in real time simply demands it.

At the heart of this approach must be intelligent automation technology, which can be used to enable the control and updating of IT across the entire retail estate; simplifying previously complex IT tasks and ensuring a consistent and secure IT environment. This also eliminates the need for engineers to travel from one retail branch to the next in order to resolve simple IT issues.

The role of ‘the store’ as we know it today needs to be redefined. Fortunately, new technology solutions, utilising managed, distributed and virtualised in-store software will provide the way forward, helping retailers to successfully digitise the physical store while having an immediate impact on their bottom line.