Exploring how 5G retail use cases revolutionize customer experience and operations
In 1995, millions of viewers watched in awe as Cher (Alicia Silverstone) used a clunky desktop computer to pan through a virtual closet of dozens of outfits in the movie “Clueless.” What seemed like far-fetched technology then is now becoming the norm thanks to 5G in retail.
Digital transformation in retail is thriving with mass funding and innovation at its back. Deloitte predicts that by 2025, the retail technology market will be worth up to $58.23 billion. 5G is a catalyst for this transformation, connecting inventory to buyers in new ways while streamlining back-of-house operations — and that’s just the beginning.
How will 5G change retail?
From customer experience to supply chain to sales insights through data analytics, retail is powered by network connectivity. Among the infinite ways to incorporate Wireless WAN (WWAN) into a retail environment, a handful stand out as the most common 5G retail use cases.
If a retailer is unable to manage inventory or process transactions, business grinds to a halt. If it’s stopped for too long, profits and performance may undergo severe hardship. To ensure constant network uptime, many organizations are turning to a hybrid WAN solution that can incorporate wired and cellular connections.
Even though hybrid WAN can increase network uptime by offering a reliable failover solution, businesses — especially franchisees — feel the pressure of lengthy installation processes if they choose to use fiber as a WAN link. LTE and 5G in retail allow locations to use cellular as both a primary and failover link, with the added bonus of reduced time to market.
Free Wi-Fi is ubiquitous, hardly making it a differentiator as retailers seek new ways to woo customers through their doors. Many organizations are instead leveraging Wi-Fi for value-add services that combine virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) tools with artificial intelligence to perform things such as virtual try-ons.
Customers can save data by using retail Wi-Fi for VR/AR services. At the same time, retailers can take advantage of money-making opportunities by offering shoppers virtual purchase suggestions or serving up targeted ads in dressing rooms.
VR/AR product visualizations are predicted to be a key retail trend between 2022-2024, and stores are also tapping into Wi-Fi for IoT connectivity, such as RFID inventory tracking.
Retailers understand that the closer they are to their target audience, the more they’ll sell. That’s where small, temporary locations come into play.
The use of plug-and-play cellular routers for pop-up shops is widespread, and 5G in retail is set to revolutionize the concept even further. 5G adds oomph to pop-up locations by providing the bandwidth to support advanced payment options, digital displays, and interactive elements that are more likely to attract customers.
Store within a store
Store within a store (SWAS) is a retail strategy in which retailers set aside floor space for partnering brands to establish shops permanently or as a temporary pop-up to drive traffic. SWAS concepts often include services, demos, or product sampling that enhance the customer experience or generate buzz among shoppers. Examples include a standalone perfume counter in a department store or a tax office in a big box retailer.
SWAS concepts allow retailers to increase customer engagement and create a unique shopping experience that benefits both the brand and the host retailer. However, SWAS locations are best established on an air-gapped network using 5G routers to separate them from the host network, improve security, and reduce the risk of data breaches.
5G in retail is an accelerator for various IoT technologies used to enhance the in-store customer experience through personalization and increased product engagement. This includes digital signage, “just walk out” checkout technology, and VR/AR applications. Off the salesfloor, IoT provides operational improvements in the form of inventory tracking, food storage regulation, people counters, and more.
Because 5G has the potential to support millions of devices per square mile, retailers can deploy thousands of IoT touchpoints even in crowded environments alongside sellers.
For years, the hunt for dedicated employees has remained a bottleneck in brick-and-mortar retail stores. Unmanned kiosks serve as a solution to increase 24/7 customer reach without the added staffing expenses. In 2020, the self-service kiosk market was valued at $12.05 billion. That value is expected to reach nearly $21.42 billion by 2027.
Vending machines such as Redbox or Benefit’s “Glam Up & Away” airport are often supported by cellular routers whose network connectivity can support a secure point of sale (POS) system, cameras, a high-definition screen, printers, and more. Other forms of retail kiosks include interactive wayfinding in shopping centers or self-checkout stations.
Getting started with retail 5G
Digital transformation will simplify the customer journey, allowing it to begin and end on any device or channel. 5G in retail gives retailers access to real-time shelf, floor, and customer insights, creating new ways of generating revenue and preserving budgets.
Getting started with 5G doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are the key components to keep in mind:
- Leverage a hybrid WAN solution with 5G for reliable, always-on connectivity that can support POS, IoT, and advanced retail technologies.
- Ensure your network architecture provides enough coverage for sales floors, inventory rooms, and any peripheral shopping experiences, including pop-ups and kiosks.
- When selecting hardware and connectivity vendors, prioritize retail network security and Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance to protect customer data.
- Choose a centralized cloud management solution to deploy, troubleshoot, upgrade, and manage locations remotely through a single pane of glass — even with a small staff.