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Mapping the 5G impact in the retail industry

Author: Gary Hilson

With the recent upheaval of the retail sector, balancing all of your priorities is more complex than ever. You have to weigh your business operations against consumer needs, brick- and-mortar stores versus e-commerce, and determine how to protect and enable employees no matter where they are working.

No matter where or how they're shopping, customers expect value and convenience. They demand a personalized experience and a way to interact with your products and services before they buy them. All of this and more—such as increased speed and performance, improved business continuity and a refined customer experience behind the scenes—is possible with 5G.

5G deployment might not be at the top of your list, but it can help you deliver physical and virtual products and services that set you apart. And the long-term return on investment to transform your network is more than repaid by the customer loyalty, operational efficiency and better end-to-end supply chain visibility.

Connected shopping isn't always online

The brick-and-mortar shopping experience is already changing. 5G's impact on retail shopping should take things even further.

Augmented reality (AR) try-before-you-buy experiences present some of the most interesting 5G use cases for retailers. An AR experience could be as simple as a shopper holding a smartphone over a product to get more information or to read user reviews. A more cutting-edge example is an AR "magic mirror" that lets customers virtually try on clothes, makeup or any other wearable product. A consumer could see several looks within seconds as the mirror scans their body and applies virtual objects over the mirror image, even tracking movement and changes in expression.

5G's impact could also extend to the in-store purchasing experience. Although contactless checkout experiences are still in their infancy, many retailers are experimenting with them, letting customers put items into a virtual basket, pay with a virtual wallet without interacting with a cashier or self-checkout kiosk. These experiences can increase the demands on your network.  These scenarios also demand the security and privacy that can be enabled through the network slicing capabilities that come with 5G.

Enhancing customer support channels

5G enables granular segmentation of your network by letting you prioritize functions and deliver the speed and latency that applications need while also enhancing security and privacy.

Granular segmentation could facilitate the deployment of chatbots to handle increasingly complex customer contact scenarios, freeing up customer service agents to rapidly respond to engagements that require the human touch. You could also add call-recording and transcription services to your customer support center, or you could deploy artificial intelligence to learn from customer patterns to improve chatbot responses and help human agents deliver better service.

As with new in-store experiences, these applications will increase traffic on your network. But because one of 5G's key impacts is the ability to segment your network, you can incrementally add these customer experience-enhancing technologies without bogging down existing services that demand high speed and low latency.

End-to-end 5G impact

The customers won't be the only ones that experience the benefits of 5G. In fact, it will reach every step in the supply chain by enabling real-time visibility when paired with the right Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Lower latency and faster download speeds will facilitate more reliable inventory tracking, whether it's a single item or an entire pallet. Soon, it will be possible to see goods leave the factory, get moved down a highway or even across an ocean to a distribution center, and finally to a retail shelf.

In distribution centers, 5G's low latency can pair with advanced video intelligence to enhance security and occupational safety. In a physical store, 5G enables the use of "smart shelves" with dozens of IoT sensors to provide real-time inventory visibility, so they can be quickly restocked while adhering to planograms. This avoids customer-frustrating product shortages without overstocking, as well as insight into what's selling and what isn't.

Mix in AI algorithms, and it becomes possible to leverage accurate real-time data to track shipments, optimize schedules at warehouse docks and use temperature sensors to monitor and safeguard perishable goods, such as food and pharmaceuticals. This can reduce waste and deliver significant financial benefits by reducing waste.

The impending 5G impact comes at a turbulent time for brick-and-mortar retailers. Many are still adjusting to digitization, but 5G should be a critical element of industry-transforming multi-access edge computing capabilities. The ability to empower a wide array of devices—some of which are only just emerging—to communicate in real-time will help retailers adapt and enhance the customer experience while maintaining profit margins.

Learn how Verizon's 5G network can help you prepare for the future of retail by solving your retail technology and IT dilemmas.

Katie Riddle is the Global Practice Lead for Verizon's retail, travel & hospitality, distribution and transportation vertical.