Feature: Page (1) of 1 - 10/16/16

Business Continuity Solutions for Retail

By Paul Fitzgerald for America's Backbone Weekly

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Whether you run a brick-and-mortar operation or an online boutique, lost internet connections can translate into lost sales, and can even cause damage to your long-term customer base. A 2016 IHS Markit survey revealed that overall, North American businesses of all sizes are losing $700 billion a year to IT downtime. While these stats aren't specific to retail, they reveal the potential pitfalls associated with our dependence on technology. In today's competitive retail environment, equipping yourself with business continuity solutions can ensure that it's business as usual, even when the unexpected strikes.

Why an outage is so bad

If a business has an e-commerce presence, an Internet outage will prevent customers from visiting your site. If they're on your site when the disruption happens, any transactions or purchases they're engaged in will be lost. If they're in the store when your network goes down, your point-of-sale system (POS) will go down with it, preventing electronic transactions. All of this means lost sales. But worse than that, it can lead to a loss in customer base. An infographic by Peer1 Hosting indicates that the average downtime per internet outage is 7.9 hours. Today's shoppers have plenty of options and limited time. This translates into limited patience. Online shoppers will simply go to another online store if yours is out of commission. In-store shoppers will experience frustration while waiting for your systems to come back online. In either case, they may form an association between your brand and the technical difficulties, detrimental to your reputation and customer referrals.

Thankfully, there are simple steps you can take to ensure that your business keeps running even after local networks fail.

Failover routers and cloud-based software

Failover routers are backup routers that switch your Internet connection from a land-based one to a cellular connection when the primary network is interrupted. Whether the connection failure is caused by bad weather or technical difficulties experienced by your ISP, failover routers take advantage of cellular networks that are unaffected by local conditions. There are several options on the market, such as Cradlepoint's ARC CBA850 failover router, which integrates smoothly with existing stable cellular networks and provides 4G LTE connectivity, enabling high speed functionality. Combined with a solid wireless network, such as that provided by U.S. Cellular, the Cradlepoint router (prices to be negotiated with vendor) can ensure that sales continue without a hiccup.

Failover routers really shine when working in tandem with cloud-based retail platforms. A backup cellular connection won't help if your business software is hosted on a local server that's affected by an Internet outage. Cloud-based platforms, by employing multiple, redundant servers, keep your information safe and accessible regardless of local conditions. VendHQ is an example of a platform that's popular with brick and mortar retailers, but also works for online stores. It manages POS transactions, compiles customer lists (including purchase histories), and lets you manage your inventory, including ordering. Price-wise, plans vary based on the number of outlets and registers, but the most popular packages range from $69 to $199 a month. There are plenty of other platforms available and a simple Google search is all that's needed to find them.

Together, failover routers and cloud-based software solutions can ensure that your retail business stays running during Internet outages. And in today's high-paced, competitive environment, being prepared is essential.

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