5 ways 5G will impact retail


Last month, mobile phone network Three ‘switched on’ its 5G service in London through an immersive experience with fashion designer Henry Holland.   

The “Living Room of the Future” initiative saw visitors able to try on mixed reality headsets from Magic Leap, to enter into a world consisting of everything from a mindfulness moment, to a gaming experience and the delivery of (virtual) House of Holland shoes by drone to your door. 

5G is expected to ramp up in 2020 on a global level. Further cities in Switzerland, Spain, Germany and Italy have already begun adopting it. Meanwhile, in the US, although four cities have turned on the signal, the technology is tied up in a trade war, since China’s Huawei is the dominant 5G supplier. Regardless, the latest Ericsson Mobility Report predicts there will be more than 10 million 5G subscriptions globally by the end of this year, and that 5G population coverage is forecast to reach 45% by 2024.

In it simplest sense, 5G is just a faster version of 4G – about 20x the speed in fact. That coupled with almost no latency, means the new networks will nearly eliminate lag time. This is big news for mobile of course – opening up paths to purchase in even the busiest of crowds for everyday shoppers. 

But its existence will also help power other tech advances, from machine learning to digital realities. Add in features like low energy consumption and higher reliability, and it brings an opportunity for the retail industry to enhance the consumer experience in the physical store with a number of seamless real-time functionalities, leading to increased engagement and conversions. 

As a result, now is the ideal time for retailers to start planning how their stores and interfaces will look when 5G becomes widely available. Here are 5 ways we see it having an impact… 

Connected Spaces

Connectivity in our physical stores, means devices that can constantly exchange data with each other – also known as those under the header of the Internet of Things (IoT). To do so, they need a fast, reliable network that doesn’t require too much power. 5G networks will achieve a 90% reduction in power consumption, guaranteeing up to 10 years of battery life for low power IoT devices. This means, for example, that more retailers will have access to smart shelves like the ones Amazon implemented in its Amazon Go stores. This technology uses dozens of sensors to provide real-time inventory visibility and update pricing according to demand. 

Key tech we’re tracking: dynamic pricing, automated checkouts, connected fitting rooms, automatic replenishment

Amazon Go Store
Immersive Experiences

Augmented and virtual realities use a lot of processing power and cellular data. With the increased capacity of 5G networks, retailers will be able to create richer, more detailed experiences when integrating their physical and digital worlds. This will make technologies that we’re already experimenting with, and seeing consumer adoption of, only more of a possibility. The result will mean shoppers are able to immediately check product materials or ingredients through the use of smart glasses or their smartphones, for instance. Those same apps will also guide customers to the products they want by projecting directions into their field of view in real-time as they navigate the store space.

Key tech we’re tracking: immersive interfaces, gamification, wayfinding

Puma’s new flagship store with gamification
Higher Efficiencies

Artificial intelligence will also thrive on IoT devices via 5G. That’s not to say the AI algorithms themselves will change, but that the higher network will enable more accurate real-time data to flow, ultimately facilitating smarter systems. In retail, for instance, managers will be able to delegate more operational and inventory decisions to automation. This means greater efficiencies as well as accuracies on things like forecasting inventory quantities so as to optimize stock levels, leaving sales associates to spend more time on customer care. Having stock in the right place at the right time will also decrease the risk of losing customers to competitors, as product availability will be more accurate. 

Key tech we’re tracking: retail analytics, inventory visibility, demand forecasting, endless aisle  

Walmart’s endless aisle
Personalization

With lower latency, retailers will also be able to respond to purchasing patterns and behaviors with immersive, tailored content in real-time. Implementing 5G in-store will allow for greater interactions and data collections between sales associates and customers. Real time data could be tracked to create personalized adverts or offers based on the preferences of individual customers, helping to increase the incentive to buy. 

Key tech we’re tracking: marketing automation, personalized promotions, AI recommendations, product search tools, clienteling

Nike’s Melrose store
Fulfilment

The implementation of 5G will also revolutionize logistics by improving  efficiency in fulfilment tasks and increasing the speed of transportation. Greater connectivity and improved reliability will help communications between brands, couriers and consumers. The full capacity of 5G will eventually also enable the roll out of automation in transport and warehouses, thanks to improved processing of the vast amounts of data required in real-time. 

Key tech we’re tracking: smart warehousing, robotics, automated vehicles

Lowebot assisting a consumer

Additional reporting by Larissa Gomes.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.