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Weis Markets equips for omnichannel marketplace

Wireless network upgrade brings benefits to customers, supply chain

Weis Markets Inc. has bolstered its wireless infrastructure to better meet the front- and back-end demands of today’s omnichannel world.

The Sunbury, Pa.-based regional supermarket chain has upgraded its wireless network to high-performance technology from Aruba, a unit of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, to help spur sales, provide a more seamless customer experience and drive supply chain efficiencies.

Overall, the network connects 11.5 million square feet of retail store, warehouse and distribution center space. Weis operates 205 stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and West Virginia.

“From an operational perspective, secure, high-performance Wi-Fi allows our 23,000 store associates and 1,000 associates in distribution centers and headquarters to ensure that correct products are purchased, inventoried, selected and placed on retail shelves,” according to Jacob Koch, manager of systems administration for Weis. “From a sales and service perspective, that same foundation will allow us to offer better in-store mobile experiences for our customers, adopt more sophisticated app services so we can push out offers via our mobile app, and gain insights into our customers’ behaviors and needs.”

Weis had standardized on an Aruba wi-fi platform, replacing its Cisco Systems access points (APs), in 2014. But the grocer decided that updating to Aruba Gigabit Wi-Fi Instant APs would boost connectivity, and help rein in costs and support mobile-first shoppers and staff.

About 5,000 APs were deployed in Instant mode across the retailer’s stores, distribution centers and warehouses, and store support center in Sunbury. Koch noted that the rollout enabled Weis to simplify wireless network management by not having put a controller in every location.

“Survivability was the primary driver for deploying Aruba Instant APs,” he explained. “As we grow, Aruba’s controllerless model allows us to quickly bring new stores online at a much lower cost.”

In distribution centers, Weis associates are now able to select items more quickly and easily — and more accurately — via a voice-controlled product pick system that uses wireless headsets and Honeywell Vocollect voice software over the Aruba network. That has resulted in a higher percentage of correct product on store shelves and improved inventory processes.

More granular network policy and management, enabled through the addition of Aruba ClearPass for unified wired and wireless network access control, also helps Weis differentiate between corporate, personal, guest and — in the future — Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Also leveraging Aruba AirWave network management, the retailer’s network administration team can make configuration changes and update software for all stores’ Instant APs more rapidly, according to Koch.

Customers — about 6,000 of whom connect to the in-store guest Wi-Fi daily — are seeing benefits from that capability as well.

“We leveraged AirWave to create a guest wireless SSID by applying a single configuration change on our APs that we advertise to our customers,” Koch stated. “This gives us an advantage, compared to our competitors, who might only offer wireless in a café area. Customers can download and use our app anywhere in the store without having to move to the cellular network and, thereby, experience faster response times.”

Koch added that when the AP upgrades are finished, Weis plans to adopt analytics software to provide a sharper picture of shopper behavior that will allow the chain to better respond to customer needs. The retailer also is assessing the use of push notifications to send relevant coupons and offers to customers who authenticate to the network.

Other potential efforts could include digital product pricing on shelves, asset tracking for grocery carts and robots for in-store cleanup.

“With our Aruba infrastructure we can examine all of these initiatives, as we’re confident the network will enable us to continue innovating and improving,” Koch commented.

Technology is a linchpin of Weis Markets’ growth strategy. In late April, Chairman and CEO Jonathan Weis outlined a $101 million capital expenditure plan that includes new stores, a spate of remodels, new in-store pharmacies, supply chain improvements and information technology upgrades. The grocery chain also plans to expand its Weis 2 Go online grocery ordering with curbside pickup, now available at about 90 stores, and pilot an online grocery delivery service.

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