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The results are in: Our future is in the clouds.

Ting Hsuan Lin | September 29, 2016

“The Cloud,” rather.  Cloud computing is the latest step in business technology, borne of a global need and desire for effective, scalable software and service solutions.  Enterprise software, office applications and services are all joining the cloud.  But what of retail applications?  Are we leaving the retail sector behind?

The benefits of cloud computing are uncontested, particularly for a smaller business.  Moving to a solid cloud computing solution saves a business time, money and staff headcount.  Instead of worrying about the capex budgeting, selection and implementation of quickly-depreciating hardware to support an internal operational need, not to mention the staff involved in each step of the process, cloud computing vendors can offer per-use and subscription pricing models for applications and services which can be customized for the express purpose of the subscribing business.  Risks and innovations are managed and mitigated by the cloud computing vendor as they work toward increased scalability and flexibility.  Through their usage fees, the retailer supports the effort at a minimal personal cost, and can reap the rewards as they become available.

Amazon led the charge into mainstream cloud computing with a well-publicized revamp of its own data centers.  Since then, Google, Microsoft and many other heavy-hitters have tapped into this potential with cloud-based application suites and services, primarily for enterprise business use.  CRM big-timers such as SalesForce.com and RightNow are moving forward with a cloud-based model.

Recognizing the necessity to move toward the cloud, there is an incredible amount of support available right now for cloud computing endeavors.  Computing giants such as IBM, HP and Intel have joined the likes of Google, Yahoo! and numerous prominent universities to embark upon cloud computing research projects, which have grown considerably in their few short years.

To be fair, the retail sector is not being entirely ignored.  In late 2009, the Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) published a comprehensive How-To guide for retailers who are interested in maximizing their potential with existing cloud-based solutions.  Internet-based Point of Sale solutions and store fronts serve to optimize the ways a vendor can attract, retain and service a customer without reinventing the wheel.  Cloud-based loss-prevention solutions help a retailer keep what they have earned.  There are plenty of ways to augment such a business, and yet to date we have no real contenders for a spectacular, comprehensive cloud-based solution in the retail sector.

There is enormous potential here.  Putting aside web analytics, which are a clear boon to any business with an internet presence, retailers can benefit from the delivery of real-time data relating to every aspect of their operation, from marketing to pricing to supply chain efficiency.  Increasing cloud-based computing in the retail sector can give smaller businesses a better chance of fighting their larger competitors by equipping them with timely information and the tools to quickly adapt to emerging trends.  In some cases, a smaller business may gain a leg up on larger, clunkier Tier 1 (high-grossing) retailers who may be limited to slow and cumbersome data analysis due to sheer volume and deprecated technologies they are slow to abandon.

The current economic climate points to not just a desire for cloud computing, but a need for it.  It is clear that the retail industry is looking for (and looking forward to) an increase in cloud computing.  As competition within the global economy heats up, small to medium sized retailers may not just find their future in cloud computing, but may come to rely upon it for survival.

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