A major IT network upgrade has enabled Ingles Markets to bulk up its online grocery capabilities and launch new services such as curbside pickup amid a surge in consumer demand driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hewlett-Packard networking technology subsidiary Aruba said yesterday that Ingles is now providing curbside pickup at four of its stores and working to bring on more locations soon. The Asheville, N.C.-based grocer operates 197 supermarkets overall in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama.
Ingles started updating its network infrastructure two years ago by swapping out Cisco Systems access points (APs) with Aruba APs in its stores, according to Santa Clara, Calif.-based Aruba. With more devices connecting and new uses surfacing, Ingles’ connectivity needs grew and the company decided to upgrade to the full Aruba wireless infrastructure and increase its density, helping to future-proof its network. Aruba noted that its new-generation Wi-Fi 6 APs allowed Ingles to avoid a “rip and replace” scenario because they interoperate with the older models that the retailer had deployed, resulting in a more cost-effective implementation.
“We initially built our network to support limited wireless devices and didn’t anticipate some of the changes that our business would encounter,” Marty Riedling, director of systems engineering for Ingles Markets, said in a statement. “With an increase in wireless IoT [Internet of Things] devices being used throughout our stores for inventory ordering and management; meat, deli and produce scales; and digital signage, it became clear that we had to build a more forward-looking foundation.”
Networking needs grew further in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, as customers who wanted to avoid shopping in stores sought contactless ordering and click-and-collect options. That led Ingles to another wireless upgrade with the installation of more Aruba Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 APs as well as access switches and ClearPass Policy Manager, which provides secure authentication of network devices.
So far, Ingles has upgraded the wireless network at 10 of its stores, Aruba reported. The enhanced functionality has allowed the grocery chain to keep inventory systems online; expedite price updates for meat, deli and produce scales; and accommodate more IoT devices without impacting network performance.
“Modernizing our network is crucial to addressing the in-store deluge of devices and applications necessary for our day-to-day operations,” Riedling noted.
The network upgrade also helped Ingles establish reliable, continuous connectivity for curbside service, in which associates use handheld scanners from Zebra — an Aruba strategic partner — for ordering and fulfillment, Aruba said. In turn, the beefed-up network performance and coverage is expected to help Ingles get stores up and running with curbside pickup more easily as it expands the service.
Supermarkets and other retailers will need stronger network capabilities going forward, as 80% of ordering and replenishment stands to be touchless for most organizations by 2024, according to Gartner research cited by Aruba.
“It’s clear that our stores need to continue evolving to meet the changing needs of our customers,” Ingles Riedling added. “With our upgraded Aruba network in place, we feel confident that we can address these future needs and tackle the challenges that come our way.”