How to Select a Database Infrastructure for Modern Global Retail Operations

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Retailers moving to cloud need a database that addresses infrastructure performance and reliability issues, as well as connectivity to legacy systems.

In retail, what’s old is new, and what’s new no one could have ever imagined. Satisfying customer demands for personalization and a seamless omnichannel experience remain top concerns. But new(er) trends, some of which were accelerated by the impact of COVID-19, are placing greater importance on having the right database infrastructure to support the high transaction workloads found in retail organizations.

Personalization and an omnichannel customer experience remain critical for retailer success. And as COVID demonstrated, the capability to react quickly and dynamically adapt to market shifts is equally important. Features and capabilities, such as the ability to institute dynamic pricing, which typically was the purview of the top retailers, are now a must for all.

The other area thrust into the spotlight is supply chain and logistics, where massive disruptions can have ripple effects around the globe. Natural disasters that shut down production facilities in one region can cause unexpected worldwide shortages. Seasonal storms can bring shipping to a halt. Power outages can impact everything from back-office systems that process orders to automated warehouse systems that fulfill orders. The occurrence of such disruptions is on the rise and must be addressed. Customer interactions also changed, putting extreme pressure on last-mile logistics. Many who exclusively did their shopping in stores took to the web. Retailers who supported neither home delivery nor curbside pickup had to embrace both. New apps were needed for customers to shop from home and for in-store surrogate shoppers to fulfill those orders.

The common thread that runs through these varied application areas is the growing need for more data and advanced analytics. Central to their use is having a database infrastructure that can support modern retailers’ variable high transaction workloads.

Competing on convenience

Availability, pricing, and speed of delivery are now prime differentiators customers look for from a retailer. Central to all three issues is a massive logistics and inventory puzzle.

Complexity abounds. Retailers need a global view of store-owned ERP systems, discrete inventory management systems, manufacturer fulfillment systems, transportation and logistics that support company processes, and last-mile delivery services.

Beyond merely passively viewing or accessing data from this plethora of applications and systems, a retailer must often integrate its applications with third-party solutions and actively use the data in its own analysis and processes. A good example is last-mile delivery. Many brick-and-mortar retailers have eCommerce sites that offer a variety of shipping options: standard, priority, two-day, or next day. What if many customers want same-day delivery?

Amazon only offers same-day delivery in limited markets. It would be impractical to build such a capacity from scratch. But some alternatives require a high level of integration with third parties. Specifically, a slew of same-day delivery services such as DoorDash, Shipt, Rapidus, Postmates, and more have popped up in the last few years. Most offer their services to customers through an app. A retailer can partner with one of these services to offer same-day delivery.

Offering this added level of convenience requires careful balancing to ensure that supply meets demand. But the in-store point of sale systems, eCommerce activities, and delivery apps must be tightly integrated.

Meeting infrastructure demands for modern retail operations

Many retailers already faced massive logistics and inventory problems before the dramatic shift to digital. They need accurate real-time inventory information and status details for expected shipments to meet their inventory and delivery times for customers.

The question becomes: What does an infrastructure need to look like to support modern retail operations? Most retailers are moving their databases to the cloud, using the latest technologies that deliver unparalleled performance and enable them to offer more services and meet fast-changing customer demands.

When making a move to the cloud, retailers must address infrastructure performance and reliability issues. They also need a way to interface and interact with legacy systems, which run the back end of many of their essential operations.

A common problem when migrating to the cloud is maintaining performance at scale. The infrastructure also must deliver the availability and support of real-time processing/transactions retailers require. Here’s an example that illustrates the scope of the issue. Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics operates 950 stores in 49 countries and processes 165,000 financial transactions per day. As such, it was critical that their global inventory management database be ultra-resilient and not have issues with outages or downtime. 

The company selected CockroachDB, which delivers zero RPO (recovery point objective) and an average of 4.5 second RTO (recovery time objective), ensuring that data is never lost and applications are highly available.

The managed database freed up the company’s engineering team to focus on application development, not on maintaining third-party software.

Salvatore Salamone

About Salvatore Salamone

Salvatore Salamone is a physicist by training who has been writing about science and information technology for more than 30 years. During that time, he has been a senior or executive editor at many industry-leading publications including High Technology, Network World, Byte Magazine, Data Communications, LAN Times, InternetWeek, Bio-IT World, and Lightwave, The Journal of Fiber Optics. He also is the author of three business technology books.

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