Connectivity Procurement and Network Design for Enterprise Retail
In this guide we will run through how to systematically design, procure, and optimize your enterprise LAN and WAN across a physical retail footprint.
Step up battle-hardened heroes of the enterprise world. This blog is for you. That’s right, we’re talking about brick-and-mortar retailers.
Maybe you’re what was until recently known as “essential workers,” providing the things that … y’know, keep us all alive. Perhaps you’re running a legacy operation with a deep sense of community, or you’re reliant on a physical experience to sell your products.
Whatever the reason, you’ve got overhead that you can’t escape, so ensuring you have the connectivity you need, everywhere you need it, at the right price is mission-critical for your continued viability.
We’re going to help you assess your connectivity and bandwidth needs, take a look at enterprise network design options, and show you how to choose your provider based on your specific situation.
Let’s Talk About Bandwidth
Firstly, you’ve got to weigh up your business-critical applications and work out how much bandwidth you’ll require. Here are some considerations.
Voice calling. Typically, this takes place over VoIP, and you’ll need to allow for around 100 Kbps for each concurrent call path.
Analog line service. These are still a very popular backup for Point of Sale (PoS) machines, alarm/security lines, and fax machines.
PoS machines. There are a few things to consider when assessing your PoS system for your bandwidth needs. It’s not just the number of machines you have – the process used to communicate the sales is also a big factor. Are the transactions being communicated to an online platform in real time? Are they being locally cached and then sent out in batches? How much overall bandwidth is needed to operate with full efficiency at your busiest times?
Guest Wi-Fi. Does your setup need free, on-site Wi-Fi for your customers? And would you want to offer your employees their own Wi-Fi? Free Wi-Fi is a great way to garner loyalty, but a poor connection experience can be frustrating.
In-store customer analytics are invaluable for larger retail operations. By encouraging customers to connect to a free in-store Wi-Fi network, retailers can use data from the connected smartphones to explore customer behavior (e.g. number of times visited during a 30-day period, new vs. returning visitors)
Retailers can offer personalized customer experiences using the data, with coupons and discounts based on previous shopping spend and preferences.
While this exchange of data can be valuable to both retailer and customer, it’ll require a significant investment in bandwidth – if the in-store Wi-Fi is too slow, customers won’t want to connect to it and the opportunity will be lost.
Inventory machines are commonly linked online to stock control systems.
Camera systems are increasingly based around digital storage solutions – no need to “wipe the tapes,” but you will be needing that bandwidth.
Streaming music all day to keep customers bopping and shopping makes more of a dent in your bandwidth than you think – especially in retail where the tunes are playing throughout the day.
Enterprise Network Design for Retail
Once you’ve got a ballpark-idea of how much bandwidth you’ll need at each site, take a step back and look at how it all links. As well as each physical retail location, you’ll need to look at additional corporate offices, data centers, and cloud-hosted applications and services.
Your enterprise network design will depend on the amount and regularity of data flowing between these locations, so it makes sense to develop a hierarchy. For more context in this area, we recommend reviewing our guide on optimal WAN design.
The two most popular network topologies in recent years have been SD-WAN and SASE. They’re both effective, flexible options – but if your operation needs a carrier-managed solution or you’ve not yet transitioned to cloud-based voice calls, an alternative like MLPS might work better, so approach enterprise network design with an open mind.
Create circuit requirement templates. This can save loads of time and procurement stress – once you’ve created categories for your different sites, you have an instant reference for your network design needs.
A typical set of templates might outline your requirements like this.
Primary = Dedicated Fiber Internet, 1 Gbps download, 1 Gbps upload throughput
Secondary = Dedicated Fiber Internet, 1 Gbps download, 1 Gbps upload throughput
Large Retail Office
Primary = Dedicated Fiber Internet, 500 Mbps download, 500 Mbps upload throughput
Secondary = Broadband, 300 Mbps download, 30 Mbps upload throughput
Small Retail Office
Primary = Broadband, 300 Mbps download, 30 Mbps upload throughput
Secondary = LTE, 50 Mbps download, 12 Mbps upload throughput
Satellite or Kiosk Office
Single circuit = LTE, 50 Mbps download, 12 Mbps upload throughput
Explore business continuity options to minimize downtime. The last thing you need is customers standing round waiting, while your floor staff hammer away at an unresponsive interface. This doesn’t have to cost the earth, with a full-on redundancy failover circuit – there are routers or firewalls with Active/Standby options, or you can get round the issue with an SD-WAN appliance that features Active/Active load balancing.
Choosing a Vendor for Your Enterprise Retail Network
When you’ve figured out how much connectivity you’ll need, and how to lay it out, it’s time to choose a vendor. Easier said than done! There is no shortage of vendor prospects, and it might be hard to tell the difference. Here are some pointers to help you get the right enterprise network design at the right price.
Location. There’s a few factors that will affect the ability of a vendor to provide a good result at your location. Your proximity to their carrier’s data centers, or other geolocationary factors (like access to UNE analog loops) may well impact their ability to provide what you need.
Topology vs. Provider. Don’t let this trip you up. Your choice of topology – whether it’s SASE, MPLS, WAVE, or something else – can seriously restrict your choice of network provider, as some of these topologies require a single provider across all locations on the network. Work out what’s going to give you the best overall result.
Network security platforms. Cheap isn’t always the safest option when it comes to network security, and the cost of a cyber attack can easily outweigh any savings you’ve made on your choice of vendor. If you’ve not already got robust network security in place, it’s worth considering a SASE topology that combines network design with security as standard as a cost-effective option.
Network equipment. Check whether your vendor is partnered with any enterprise networking hardware suppliers, who might provide you with an offer on equipment purchase and maintenance.
Contract negotiation. The devil’s in the details – it could well be the case that different components of your network services are delivered according to separate contracts, each with their own Terms & Conditions. The last thing you need is to be paying out a network contract you can’t wriggle out of, even after the premises have been boarded up and left to the rats. Lawyer up beforehand, to minimize your risk.
In what feels like an endless period of global economic uncertainty, the additional monetary risk of brick-and-mortar retail is not to be taken lightly. Enterprise owners face a constant balancing act between delivering the best customer experience, and managing an ever-rising set of operating costs.
With all that to deal with, you’d be forgiven for seeking efficiency in your network procurement. Try us out at Lightyear - we can templatize connectivity needs and automate circuit procurement at each site on your behalf.
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