How Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband can help repackage retail

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Chris Ashraf

From online to Aisle 5, the next generation in wireless technology could revolutionize the shopping experience.

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For many of us, it’s evident that 5G promises to radically impact how people live, work and play. But it’s also poised to change the way they shop.

By enabling exciting new ways to increase efficiency and improve consumer engagement, the latest generation of wireless technology should forever alter business models, introduce an unprecedented level of customer service and combine the best of digital and physical commerce.

To help consumers get the most out of the shopping experience—to truly deliver the goods (and services) customers want—business owners need to start thinking now about how 5G will help transform retail.

A retailer’s smartest hire

For retailers, Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband has the potential to foster a better understanding of their inventory, their customers and, by extension, their businesses as a whole. 

Using complex sensor networks and wireless cameras—technologies that will be optimized by the ultra-low latency of Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband—retailers will be able to raise their in-store intelligence. Near-real-time analysis of foot traffic and areas in which shoppers linger will help to enable dynamic floor plans and displays that maximize the positioning of products, while thin, mobile augmented reality hardware has the potential to result in more thorough employee training and improved showroom efficiency. Just imagine an associate scanning the stockroom for extra inventory, without ever leaving the floor. 

But Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband can help businesses to know much more than what’s on the shelves and what’s out back.

“With Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, retailers will be able to create real-time shopping environments that deliver quality information to their customers,” says Tami Erwin, executive vice president and group CEO of Verizon Business Group. “In a real-time physical environment, stores will have insight into patrons that they previously could have only had online.”

With the help of 5G-powered computer vision and a more affordable, scalable sensor ecosystem, end-to-end supply chain intelligence will help to eliminate blind spots throughout the long trek from supplier to showroom, so products are accounted for from A to B, and everywhere in between. When retailers know what they have, what they need and when they can expect a resupply, they can avoid stocking issues and ensure on-time deliveries. Retailers are freed up to focus on the things that can truly distinguish them, like their customer engagement and loyalty strategies.

A supercharged in-store experience

Research by Gartner suggests that by 2020, 100 million consumers will be using augmented and virtual reality technology. That shift, largely aided by next-generation wireless networks like Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, will help to transform the sales floor. 

Consider a dynamic, interactive environment in which consumers can hold their phones up to retail shelves and see product information, ratings and reviews overlaid on the items using augmented reality. With that capability, a customer with a nut allergy could set a filter on an application on their smartphone and, with a wave of their hand, scan nutritional details of packaged food in the supermarket. Someone shopping for TVs might call up aggregated, side-by-side reviews of every set in the electronics store.

With Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, retailers will be able to create real-time shopping environments that deliver quality information to their customers. In a real-time physical environment, stores will have insight into patrons that they previously could have only had online.

— Tami Erwin, executive vice president and group CEO, Verizon Business Group

Imagine an opt-in loyalty program that relies on AI to announce a shopper’s arrival, surface dynamic pricing and deals, and serve up on-the-fly recommendations based on past experiences or the contents of their cart. Smart mirrors could suggest the perfect new shade of lipstick, and volumetric video-capable fitting rooms could create shareable, 360-degree holograms of the shopper in a custom-tailored suit, to share with friends for feedback. 

Delighting shoppers is a worthy goal for any retailer, and the ability to leverage real-time data with Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband has the potential to propel in-store AR technology from mere novelty to an essential tool of customer service and retention.

Ecommerce, perfected

Nothing matches the convenience of online shopping and, with 5G, the future of in-home buying experiences is likely to grow richer and more interactive. 

Retail store associates could potentially have real-time holographic consultations with customers in their homes—from personal stylists appearing to browse their closet together, to experts guiding them through the set-up of their latest IoT-connected smart appliance.

In Verizon’s 5G Labs, we recently showed how 5G’s ultra-low latency can help AI-enabled virtual assistants process thousands of inputs at once, which could drastically reduce wait times to speak to a customer service representative. Consider a virtual assistant located in a kiosk in your hotel lobby that is able to sense emotion—be it frustration, confusion or excitement—and react accordingly. Even on mobile retail platforms, AR experiences may one day be the norm. In these ways, Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband can help combine the expediency of online and the rich experiences of in-store.

“Bridging the gap between retailers’ physical infrastructure and their digital environments—being able to connect those two are really where it all comes together for retailers,” says Michele M. Dupré, group vice president at Verizon Business Group.

With Verizon 5G, there’s something for everyone

Over a next-generation wireless network, the retail experience will likely be defined by its suppleness—what you need, when you need it and how you want to get it, whether that’s in a staffed store, a grab-and-go, autonomous shop, or delivered quickly and quietly via drone to your doorstep. From the factory floor to the grocery aisle, 5G Ultra Wideband has the potential to unlock value at every step, for businesses and consumers alike.

“Bigger retailers are going to do things they never envisioned they could do because of the scale with which they can now operate,” says Thierry Sender, director of IoT and real-time enterprise product strategy at Verizon. “But those same technologies will start to filter down and provide benefits even for the mom-and-pop shops. The democratization of 5G will impact everybody.”

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