5G in retail: buzzword or opportunity?

Kevin Murray, Managing Director of Greenlight Commerce, reveals what the retail industry can expect to see from the 5G revolution.

5G is the latest advancement in the technology industry, promising to bring improvements in connectivity and completely revolutionise business processes. With the majority of the main carriers in the UK having rolled out 5G across a number of cities, it is clear that it is starting to enter the mainstream. It is believed the technology will bring with it improved bandwidth, reliability, greater speeds and reduced latency, but what can the retail industry expect to see from the 5G revolution?

Technology to impress the modern customer

The modern consumer expects more from retailers than ever before. Competition is fierce and retailers need to offer an experience that differentiates themselves from competitors if they are to foster customer loyalty and survive. In recent years, we have seen the high-street struggle and shops continue to close. Retailers are under increased pressure to justify the existence of physical stores, with more and more customers doing their shopping online, and one way to do this is to use technology to improve the in-store experience.

The rise in customer demand for personalisation and convenience has led to retailers experimenting with different technologies to improve customer experience. Alongside artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) look set to transform the retail sector. A recent Gartner survey found that by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in AR online and in-store. Many customers are looking for retailers to offer a more immersive experience, with AR and VR capturing the nation’s imagination.

Nowadays, customers value the retail experience just as much as they do the product itself. VR and AR technologies enable retailers to deliver a highly-immersive experience. Whereas AR enhances the users surroundings, VR allows customers to venture into an entirely different world. We have seen a number of the bigger retailers already start to introduce these technologies. Argos recently combined with Lego to launch an AR feature on the retailer’s mobile app, allowing customers to see full-scale versions of selected Lego toys before they buy them.

It is important to note that these technologies are expensive and can be difficult for a retailer to roll-out. Before implementing any new technology, including AR and VR, retailers should ensure they are doing so for the right reason. These technologies need to be addressing either a customer problem or a customer need, and shouldn’t be introduced simply for the sake of it.

A next-gen network for next-gen retail

These developments are obviously extremely exciting for both consumers and retailers and represent the retail experience of the future. To date, retailers have been unable to successfully roll these technologies out because devices need to be able access and manage large amounts of data, and require a more substantial network with lower latency and more consistency. The current network has not been substantial enough to deal with this because of latency problems and a lack of consistency. 5G completely changes this.

With ultra-fast speeds of 5G, frustrating buffering and lags will soon be a thing of the past. This network upgrade is going to be absolutely vital in enabling the experiences that modern consumers are demanding. It has the potential to empower retailers with innovative technologies that require more speed and reliability, and the collection of more data. These technologies are sure to build stronger, longer-lasting relationships between brand and customer.

Transforming back-end operations

It is not just the customer-facing side of retail that is going to be revolutionised by 5G, we are also going to witness innovative developments to the back-end. Although this won’t directly impact the customer, it will transform how customer data is handled and processed, as well as other operational aspects of retailers. These are invisible to the customer, but will massively improve their experience by increasing the speed of content delivery. It will also allow for quicker and more accurate data analysis, which will lead to more targeted and personalised marketing.

The speed of 5G will also improve and simplify the supply chain for retailers. It will support constant communication and instant monitoring of an increased number of connected devices, optimising real-time feedback from back-end warehouses, logistic systems and inventory control. This ensures processes run as efficiently and smoothly as possible which in turn, gets the retailer’s product into customers’ hands quicker.

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