Digital transformation and changing user demands are driving the retail industry into one of the largest overhauls it has ever seen.

An average consumer today expects seamless services across multiple platforms. They walk into a store and expect a secure in-store Wi-Fi connection to social media or mobile payment gateways, quick checkouts and interaction with rich media. Users have set high standards for instant gratification and a rapid, yet personalized, shopping experience.

Modernizing retail environments comes at a security cost

For the retailer, it means the need for integration between online and offline services has never been more important. Retail security teams now need to ensure that their business-critical applications perform reliably, 24/7, all across different sets of channels, devices and platforms. Cloud-based applications for businesses and users, big data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT) devices (RFID, sensors and CCTV cameras), mobility and social media have all added new dimensions to the way retailers approach the shopping experience.

The network can make or break retail transformation. Users demand more digital and media-rich services, as well as increased cybersecurity and data privacy. However, legacy retail wide area networks (WAN) and branch offices are often ill-equipped to effectively provide and manage these new user requirements.

Retail companies are also under immense pressure to deliver unparalleled user experience through multiple channels — from physical stores to websites, mobile applications and social media. However, they need to do all this while keeping costs and operating complexities low, all while increasing their global footprints and reducing go-to-market times.

Network connectivity risks

Traditional connectivity is proving to be too expensive and rigid for today’s dynamic retail demands. The increased use of cloud-based applications, rich media, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and cloud-based productivity and collaboration tools is rapidly increasing bandwidth demands, and solely relying on multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) can become expensive. The public internet, on the other hand, provides flexibility and easy access to the cloud, is easily available at remote locations, and is cost effective. But the public internet is plagued with inherent challenges, such as latency and packet loss (especially over long distances and overseas connectivity), not to mention issues around security, network stability and performance.

Most retailers today have multiple sites, applications and platforms for businesses and users, each of which is a potential point of vulnerability for malicious attacks. Increased use of public internet or broadband to connect to the cloud or interconnect devices exposes the retail network to malicious activity and threat actors. Point-of-sale (PoS), IoT and mobile devices connecting over in-store Wi-Fi are also potential targets. Segmentation is critical to provide secure separation between guest and corporate network services. Tightly integrating security with networking is a necessity to ensure that retail cybersecurity teams can control, mitigate, protect and analyze network risks, while better enforcing policies across the corporate network.

Dealing with a retail data breach

Security has emerged as one of the biggest points of concern in retail. In 2021 alone, the list of significant retail security breaches included Bonobos and Guess (clothing retailers), Hobby Lobby, Carter’s (baby clothes), Wegmans (supermarket chain), Volkswagen and more. The average cost of a retail data breach in 2021 was $3.27 million, up from an average of $2.01 million in 2020, according to the 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report. That represents a 62.7% increase, but it’s important to remember that the costs are much more than money stolen from the company or its users. Retail data breach costs also include compensating users with credit monitoring and identity monitoring services, litigation if a class-action suit occurs, and of course fixing the breach and preventing future attacks. Clearly, the reputation cost and lost consumer confidence of a breach affecting customer privacy can eclipse the lost revenue from business disruption.

Business-critical applications, such as PoS and inventory management, need to run without interruption throughout a business day. Even more challenging, the entire infrastructure needs to be built and provisioned to handle seasonal peak workloads. When retail locations increasingly rely on real-time applications, such as VoIP and unified communications, jitter, lag and downtime are issues that can pose a threat to the business. Whether it is applications that enable day-to-day business activities or user-facing mobile and web applications hosted on-premises or in the cloud, it is essential that application delivery is unremitting without compromising on quality and user experience.

Modern networks that power the underlying infrastructure for digital, cloud-first retail organizations need to be intelligent and built to deliver uninterrupted, secure connectivity to cloud applications. Superior application performance, reduced deployment times, and minimized cost and complexity of running the networks are some of the features that retailers should incorporate when building a future-proof network structure.

Retail cybersecurity with SASE and SD-WAN

Whether the retail organization decides to expand to new geographical locations by opening new branch offices or through acquisitions/mergers, cybersecurity leaders’ roles are critical in quickly onboarding new locations. SD-WAN’s centralized administration and console make it easy to integrate new services and locations while adjusting policies remotely for immediate results, without having to worry about the cost, resources and logistics associated with setting up a new cybersecurity infrastructure at a new location.

A new approach to integrating security and networking in one solution called secure access service edge (SASE) can allow retail cybersecurity teams to proactively set up application transport policies and network routes to cope with traffic spikes instead of having to upgrade circuits and bandwidth. SD-WAN, a capability of SASE, leverages broadband to help retailers address user demand.

Retail is arguably one of the world’s most cybersecurity-dependent sectors, and the opportunities to integrate technology to improve service quality, realize affordability and enhance the user experience are wide open. The impact of network downtime or service disruption can result in significant financial and business losses. With so much at stake, the retail industry has no tolerance for network failure.

SASE and SD-WAN enable retail cybersecurity leaders to create a more robust, reliable and trusted network infrastructure to operate efficiently and safely. By creating the perfect balance between security, manageability, network operational efficiency and performance, cybersecurity leaders can help their organizations maintain business resilience. SASE enables faster service delivery, improved application performance and easier branch and compliance management.