Using a NoSQL Database to Manage Information in a Modern Retail Environment

3 min read

Accelerating the shift toward online shopping.

Over the past 18 months, retail customers have shifted their focus from shopping in physical stores to online shopping, including online engagement with their local retailers. Retailers faced a critical need to change their operational posture, increasing their reliance on e-commerce and digital capabilities. Retailers that were already highly digitally enabled found themselves in an admirable position relative to those who were not as far along.

The increased importance of digital engagement and interaction during the pandemic is likely to remain and even increase as shoppers return to stores expecting more personalized experiences that they can easily fit into their daily routines.

As retail organizations work to become more responsive to business and market changes, more innovative and more differentiated, flexibility in the development of applications and management of data plays an important role.  

Flexible data management powers operational agility

The management of data pertaining to customers, products and operations is central to retail business. The more flexible an organization can make its management of this data, the more it will be able to respond to unforeseen changes in the environment.

In the realm of Database Management Systems, flexibility is one of the key benefits of NoSQL databases compared to relational databases. Because NoSQL does not require a pre-defined database schema, it is better suited to rapidly changing environments, providing application developers with the ability to evolve the data model over time as application requirements evolve.

Document-oriented databases — a specific type of NoSQL database — store information in a JSON document format where each document is itself a complex data structure. Documents can contain nested structures of various data types. Users of a document-oriented database can query these structures to retrieve or update documents without locking down the database. Because application developers do not have to define and adhere to a rigid schema when using a NoSQL document-oriented database, they can make changes to applications in a more agile manner. The agility and scalability of document-oriented databases makes them well suited to a wide range of applications, including the following:

  • Retail and e-commerce
    • Product catalog
    • Customer profiles
    • Store information
    • Shopper metrics
    • Transaction records (POS and online)
  • Dispatch
    • User/customer profiles
    • Driver/technician profiles
    • Request and Dispatch records
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
    • Device IDs
    • Values from device sensors with timestamps
    • Device locations
  • Other
    • Property catalog for search
    • Insurance claim processing records
    • Logistics
    • Marketing campaign metrics
    • Financial trading records
    • Gaming

IBM Cloudant and CouchDB: An example of flexible hybrid cloud

One example of a documented-oriented database is Apache CouchDB. IBM offers Cloudant, a CouchDB-based Database-as-Service (DBaaS) available on the IBM Cloud.

Because IBM Cloudant is based on CouchDB, an application can use the CouchDB API with databases on the IBM Cloud, other clouds, on-prem and on the network edge.

An application that uses the CouchDB API can use IBM Cloudant and additional instances of CouchDB running in other locations to craft hybrid and multicloud document-oriented database solutions.

In addition to the common benefits of document-oriented databases described earlier, CouchDB and IBM Cloudant provide an easy-to-use replication capability.

The ability to easily replicate data between database instances in different locations is one of the most important capabilities a document-oriented database can provide for many applications, including those in the retail space.

As an example, replication of data between instances of Cloudant and/or CouchDB can be used to enable data to easily move between a central database and separate databases in each retail store, as well as between the database in each store and all the Point-of-Sale devices (terminal, tablet, smartphone) within that store.

Replication between CouchDB and Cloudant hosted databases can also be used to move data between mobile applications, kiosks and a single central database.

Another powerful use of the replication capabilities of CouchDB is as the basis for migrating to new infrastructure, when needed. Having a reliable and easy-to-use replication capability provides operational and financial flexibility to move an existing database to a new cluster in the same data center, a new data center in a different city, from on-prem to a cloud service or between two cloud service providers.   

Application developers working to create new and improved e-commerce capabilities and digital customer engagement should strongly consider the use of a document-oriented NoSQL database so that those new applications will be easy to adapt to anticipated and unforeseen future changes in the retail environment.

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