In the Nineties, online shopping revolutionized retail. Fast-forward almost 30 years. Today, we can order a brand-new wardrobe for home delivery or a week’s worth of groceries for in-store pickup — all with a tap on a smartphone. Constant connectivity and a multiscreen world have blended the online and off-line shopping experience, and successful retailers weave digital tools like mobile, context and video into sales, marketing and customer service.
With the advent of 5G, we’re about to experience the next big retail evolution. We expect 5G technology to connect more devices faster, enable lower latency, boost battery life and handle more data — enabling things like “magic mirrors” in the dressing room. Imagine using a touchscreen mirror to swipe through a store’s options. Once you pick the perfect outfit in the magic mirror, retailers can sell it off the rack. Or perhaps, a robot will create the custom garment, and have it delivered to your house via drone. All of this could be eventually enabled by the 5G network.
The network of the future will be about the entire connected experience, not just faster speeds. 5G will ultimately impact how businesses work and how marketers within those businesses engage customers —providing valuable data insights to target and personalize messages. Here’s more on 5G implications, implementations and even potential issues for the retail industry.
Retailers need to adapt to changing consumer behaviors and preferences —delivering unique shopping experiences, customized offerings and personalized attention. They need to be hyper-focused on conversions during the crucial in-store shopping window that spans, on average, 20 minutes per visit.
To be most effective, sales associates will need near real-time access to a 360-degree client view with insights into shopping history and preferences. Since consumers often research a product online prior to in-store purchase, near real-time insights into that research may allow the associate to influence in-store decision-making.
Digital signage that highlights relevant content is another way to customize the in-store shopping experience. Tailored content tied to demographic data, dwell time, purchase history, social media engagement and seasonal specials can help increase how much the customer actually buys — delivering increased revenue to the retailer.
This personalization requires seamless integration with in-store technology married with applications residing at the store edge. A 5G network across a retailers’ distribution warehouses, data centers and cloud service providers could deliver this.
Using future 5G technology in an existing network architecture can help power new technologies. Think: personalized digital signage, augmented reality, virtual reality, video and pattern recognition of shoppers and interactive mobile apps. These technologies translate to new applications and use cases — effectively engaging shoppers before they even enter a brick-and-mortar store and well after they leave.
Let’s start with interactive window displays as an attention-grabbing digital solution. Displays can be set up in shop windows, which can interact with customers before entering the store. This technology helps invite the customer inside to continue the shopping experience and find that perfect outfit they just virtually assembled.
Now in-store, the customer can enter the interactive fitting rooms. Touch-screen technology will allow the customer to request different sizes or immediate assistance. Retailers can use this same interactive “magic mirror” technology to find out what items of clothing are in a particular dressing room to offer personalized ads in near real-time, such as suggesting matching accessories to pair with a dress.
When retailers start using 5G networks, customers and employees will have capabilities for these types of interactions and data collections.
During the interaction, retailers can collect data such as contact information, sizes and style preferences, and use it to send targeted follow-up offers. Imagine loving a necklace and not buying it because of the price, only to receive an e-mail a few days later letting you know it’s on sale.
These implementations could have an enormous impact on customer engagement — creating more confidence and brand loyalty. Shoppers expect a straightforward, personalized, informative and convenient experience. By leveraging technologies that can do this, such as AI and VR over 5G, we can help lay the groundwork for a successful future.
More and more retailers want the inherent security, stability and predictability that cellular affords while obtaining localized data that historically was only available via Wi-Fi all at a single store aggregation point. This new Edge creates a “best of both worlds” approach to connectivity, which enables an entirely new way to drive customer experience. Compounding this new demand are multitenant mall complexes where retailers are competing with nearby retailers for both Wi-Fi and LTE coverage.
Next-generation mobility considerations will require harmony between macro cellular, in-store cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Furthermore, harmony between Wi-Fi and 5G handoff will be key to a seamless consumer experience. The key is bringing 5G and Wi-Fi technologies together in a way that makes the most of each platform’s advantages, drives the retailer’s digital transformation initiatives and delivers a superior in-store consumer experience.
To maintain relevancy and a competitive edge, retailers will need to cater to the needs of the tech-savvy, mobile-focused generation of modern consumers. And the future of 5G will deliver.
Phillip Hartfield is industry solutions marketing general manager for retail at AT&T.