A Gartner report estimated that by 2025, 75% of data will be processed at the edge, outside of traditional, centralized data centers and the cloud, resulting in a faster response time and reduced latency. 

Edge computing will enable applications to provide real-time interactions with customers. Let’s look at the benefits of edge and the ways brands are using edge computing to enhance customer experience.

Edge Computing Explained

Edge is a computing paradigm that refers to a distributed computing framework that positions applications closer to data sources such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices, local edge servers, point of sales systems, robots, vehicles and sensors. This closer proximity to data enables processing at greater speeds and volumes, which facilitates greater action-led results in real-time. 

Edge is about processing data closer to the devices generating the data. It uses locally generated data to enable real-time responsiveness to create unique customer experiences, control sensitive data and reduce the costs of data transmission. In the past, businesses would send all of their monitoring data from a device or process into the cloud or a data center where it would be processed, analyzed and stored. 

IoT devices create massive volumes of data, so edge computing only uses the data that is useful.

New Interactive Experiences for Customers

Edge enables brands to improve and enhance the ways they manage and use physical assets, which allows them to develop new interactive experiences for their customers. 

Brian Gilman, chief marketing officer, at IntelePeer, a communications platform-as-a-service provider, told CMSWire that brands are using edge computing to process and react to customer engagement at incredible speeds. 

"In retail, for example, edge computing allows brands to drive real-time marketing to improve experiences. Likewise, because edge computing can react quickly to customer inputs, companies can create hyper-personalized experiences to increase loyalty and revenue,” said Gilman. 

He added that because edge computing is not dependent on an internet connection, brands can continue to support the customer experience regardless of server outages or unstable connections.

Derek Swanson, chief technology officer at Silk, a cloud database virtualization platform, told CMSWire that as digital transformation evolves, brands must identify new edge technology leveraging real-time application stacks to push the customer experience closer to the edge.

“We are seeing this today in more advanced augmented-reality applications requiring real-time video rendering and social media streaming, where influencers create new forms of customer interactions and delight,” said Swanson.

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Hyper-Personalized and Omnichannel Customer Experiences

Using edge computing, brands can create hyper-personalized, omnichannel customer experiences by providing access to services that work in conjunction with edge devices. Because edge reduces the data latency associated with cloud computing, it also opens new opportunities to deliver superior customer service. Customer expectations and patience have changed over the past few years. An expectation of immediacy is now the norm.

"The ongoing digital evolution has given customers more control, which means they are now accustomed to getting what they want when they want it," said Mindy Weinstein, founder of Market MindShift and author of the soon-to-be-released book “The Power of Scarcity.”

“When that doesn’t happen, it often causes anxiety and frustration,” she added. Weinstein said that brands can restore this feeling of control among customers by providing multiple ways to interact with customer service. “That puts some power back into customers' hands,” she said.

Edge computing provides many opportunities for customers to immediately interact with brands across multiple channels, enabling them to control their own narratives.

Retail Shopping Goes High Tech

Retail shopping outlets such as grocery stores are now using edge computing to improve the shopping experience.

In 2021 Kroger debuted a new self-checkout system that is self-contained on its shopping cart. Called the KroGo cart, it has a built-in camera and a scanner that allows customers to scan and weigh products before placing them in the cart. A 2020 Juniper Research report predicted that the value of transactions processed by smart checkout technologies will reach $387 billion in 2025.

Smart checkout technologies facilitate simpler customer experiences by removing traditional checkouts and embracing a “just walk out” approach. Retail outlets will use edge computing to process the vast amount of data generated during such transactions. Standard AI uses edge computing along with artificial intelligence to create such a “just walk out” shopping experience. Camera systems track the items that a customer has picked up and placed in their shopping cart and essentially tracks them until they walk out the door. 

Learning Opportunities

When the customer blocks the picking-up action, the application looks at the shelf to determine what item is missing. To identify the customer, the application uses the cell phone in the customer’s pocket, which has an app that includes their personal details. When the customer leaves, the application sends them a message that lists the items they have purchased, all in real time. 

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Emerging Tech Plus Edge Will Enable New Level of CX

A separate edge network is not required for edge computing to function, although when a separate network is involved, it becomes yet another element that is between customers and data — but 5G cellular networks can play a large role in reducing latency. 

5G technology adds super fast wireless connectivity to edge computing with low latency and high cellular speed. The network edge is often used when it is too complicated or overly costly to use edge on location, but high responsiveness is still needed. The Internet of Things refers to the exponentially growing network of connected devices (thermostats, cars, lights, refrigerators, aisle displays, kiosks, Fitbits, etc.) that collect and exchange data in real time using localized embedded sensors. 

A report from Insider Intelligence indicated that by 2025 there will be 3.74 billion IoT mobile connections worldwide, and by 2026, more than 64 billion IoT devices will be installed. Edge provides IoT applications with a localized basis for data processing, storage and computing. IoT devices gather data and provide it to the edge server, which analyzes the data at the edge of the local network. Swanson said the combination of 5G and the new Wi-Fi 6 is key for enabling the boom in edge-computing paradigms over the next five to 10 years. 

“But the immediate impact will be on IoT and making devices (rather than people) more functional at the edge as computing power and decision-making move closer to the end-user,” he said.

Swanson added that the potential for a dramatic expansion of consumers, combined with a substantial reduction in cost and effort, will mark a transformational decade as edge computing enables a new level of experience for people, purpose and profitability at speed and scale.

“Rich edge computing is still emerging, and as backend technology stacks mature enough to provide high customer value in real time, we can expect a surge in application development to offer new customer experiences,” Swanson explained.

The Challenges of Edge CX

The challenges of using edge along with IoT and related technologies to enhance the customer experience are largely related to the challenges of edge computing itself. 

Security remains a top concern for many brands using or considering edge computing. A 2019 report by Kollective indicated that 52% of IT leaders polled said ensuring full security across all edge devices is a key concern. According to the report, this concern is based on the fact that multiple edge and IoT devices increase a network's potential attack surface with each new device. As for the customer experience when edge computing is involved, the challenges lie in creating experiences that delight the customer while not being invasive or creepy. 

Customers will likely appreciate receiving in-app notifications alerting them that an item they just passed in the aisle is on sale for half-price, but they are not likely to appreciate the feeling of being followed and hounded by an overabundance of notifications. 

The Takeaway: Edge Computing Will Transform CX

Edge computing — along with IoT, AI and 5G technologies — enables brands to drive real-time marketing, provide hyper-personalization, relevant recommendations and coupons, walk-out shopping and other cutting-edge practices to enhance and improve the customer experience while reducing the costs of data transmission.