Meijer VP of Infrastructure & Operations Rodney McCarter explained the strategy at NRF’s Big Show.
Meijer is enhancing operational efficiency and customer experiences with a new network strategy focused on connectivity and artificial intelligence.
Over the past two years, the retailer has been focused on creating robust and reliable network capabilities that offer scalable bandwidth, geolocation and tracking throughout the store, and visibility into user performance.
Meijer has also designed a scalable computing platform by bringing machine learning and AI into network operations.
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Finally, the retailer has improved the customer experience by improving the employee experience; it has applied user-centric design principles to the network architecture and is leveraging network data in real time to enhance the user experience.
Meijer VP of Infrastructure & Operations Rodney McCarter explained the strategy at NRF’s Big Show. McCarter started off by talking about why connectivity is becoming so important and why retailers need to keep employees and customers Internet-connected at all times.
“There's a lot of technology and business value that that technology is starting to bring in our stores. Whether it's leveraging robots, software robots, efficiency robots, stuff in store, leveraging data, mandatory management type stuff, using technologies to communicate with our customers more effectively. And what that means from a network perspective is that that network has to be reliable and robust, the speed's got to be fast. Wi-fi everywhere. Every part, the deli, and the freezers, and the refrigerators, outside the building, so that creates challenges in terms of how we got to design that network.”
That’s why Meijer has prioritized building a robust computer platform to operate that network on and to collect data.
“Our network reliability has gone way up,” McCarter said. “When I joined Meijer about 10 years ago, the number one contributor to unplanned downtime was the network, by far. That has significantly changed in the last two years through deployments we made with wireless and the process of deploying our SD-WAN solution now. The number of incidents have gone down.”
McCarter said the retailer’s new networking capabilities have also helped support the ways Meijer is engaging with customers now, including the company’s Shop & Scan, delivery and curbside pickup services.
“We've accelerated the amount of store pickup we do, and curbside delivery we do, and third-party that we do. All those processes involve our wireless network operating both inside our building and outside of our building. Years ago, people thought of customer Wi-fi as a nice thing to have. Today, customer wi-fi actually underpins some revenue generating operations for us,” McCarter said.
As for Meijer’s employees, the new network has helped them increase their own productivity.
“Whether it's their inventory operations they have to do in store, how they communicate, we have to get them out on the floor. We don't want our team members in the back room someplace on a computer, we want them on the floor, right? So the network allows them to do that with a timing clip for a specific physical location,” he said.
In the years ahead, McCarter said, Meijer is looking at leveraging more location data in-store.
“Some ideas we've been tossing around are how do we leverage this rich location data in how people are moving through our stores,” McCarter said. “I always try to appreciate the new ways that engage the people in our store.”
He also said increasing team members' productivity is another future focus.
“The more mobile, the more easily we can get specific information and data to our team's hands, the more we can enrich that experience we have with our customers,” McCarter said. “And then we're also looking at investigating new checkout experiences to make it simpler to get in and out of our stores.”