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Retail edge
and the benefits
of virtual

Author: Heidi Vella

Imagine the scene: As a customer walks into their favorite store, the retail edge computing system connects with their phone and instantly recognizes them as a repeat shopper because they have registered their device and opted in to the retailer’s in-store marketing program. The customer's phone pings, presenting a personalized discount offer or drawing their attention to something they might like based on their shopping history. The customer tries on the product virtually using augmented reality (AR) or magic mirror technology. Pleased with how the product looks, they purchase the product in-app, while the artificial intelligence (AI) recommends something else they might like.

This is the future that 5G-powered edge computing can promise to enhance the customer shopping experience. As brick-and-mortar stores look to win back customers post-pandemic, they should consider integrating some of the key characteristics of online shopping to the in-store experience. Namely, speed, flexibility and personalization. As the above scenario suggests, edge computing use cases in retail could transform the sector to compete with e-commerce, especially when paired with low-latency 5G connectivity.

What does multi-edge offer retail?

Multi-access edge places compute and storage resources at the edge of the network, close to end points and end users. By reducing the distance data has to travel and the hoops it needs to pass through to complete an instruction, it speeds up processing and preserves bandwidth.

Paired with 5G networks, which can provide low-latency and could someday support up to one million devices in a square kilometer, retail edge computing could provide real-time speeds to support entirely new applications and possibilities. It promises to usher in an era of cost-effective Internet of Things (IoT) applications in retail that can be used to garner real-time insights on every operational aspect of the retail environment, including capturing customers' attention with AR and more personalized experiences that would otherwise be impossible.

Virtual point-of-sale: Retail edge computing supports smart interactions and experiences

Thanks to 5G edge computing, brick-and-mortar retail stores could become more dynamic and interactive shopping environments.

One edge computing use case in retail is the building of a virtual point-of-sale system. A virtual point-of-sale system could allow all sale transactions to be processed in-store in a virtualized system, rather than sending data back and forth from the cloud. This could make transactions much quicker, reducing lengthy checkout lines and in-store purchase abandonment.

For retailers, another benefit of an edge-powered virtual point-of-sale system is that it doesn't require costly on-premises data processing hardware and analytics for every location. Instead, different edge computing nodes could securely power many different stores at once. This should create a cost-effective hardware footprint and a more flexible software landscape that can be tailored to individual store needs.

Furthermore, retail edge computing and virtual point-of-sale systems could also help transform stores into data collecting hubs. By connecting with 5G and IoT devices, they could garner insights on how customers navigate the store and interact with products and the levels of footfall at different times of the day—all in near real-time. This information can be used to maximize the potential of a store depending on its location.

Edge compute-powered IoT devices throughout the store could also improve the efficiency of store associates by allowing them to quickly locate items and check and update inventory. Effectively managing inventory with increased accuracy is key to increasing sales and delivering powerful customer experiences.

Edge computing use cases in retail enhance the customer experience

Time-sensitive customers are increasingly turning to online shopping because it's quick and convenient and intuitive, helping them find products quickly with recommendations based on their user history. Brick-and-mortar stores need to replicate efficient online experiences to make in-store shopping experiences just as seamless.

Retail edge computing and 5G can enhance retailers’ ability to deliver the seamless, personalized experience consumers want. For example, a store app can connect with the edge computing network, and AI technology can calculate, in near real-time, an appropriate offer or recommendation to make to the customers based on their purchase history and in-app data.

Customers could then use an AR application in the app to virtually try on an outfit or see a product at scale in their home. Matching items could be recommended to them, creating a complete portfolio of suggestions. This hassle-free "try-before-you-buy" experience can minimize changing room queues and, subsequently, reduce customer returns. Using the virtual reality function, customers can instantly access product information, read reviews, compare prices or see how others have used the products on social media, helping them make faster purchase decisions.

Another example of edge computing use cases in retail is edge-connected AR or wayfinding apps to help customers find items on their shopping lists. Customers could pull up their lists, and the server will rapidly compute the locations of the available items and suggest alternatives for the out-of-stock ones.

The low latency and fast speeds that 5G edge computing can enable could also support the deployment of retail edge computing solutions like virtual sales associates to welcome shoppers, help them purchase goods and provide frequently asked information. In fact, the possibilities are only limited to the imagination. As the world emerges from the pandemic, retailers should be considering the impact of this technology and what it can do to lure customers back to their stores. The quicker they can integrate it into their stores, the easier their business will provide the immersive, personalized shopping experiences customers crave.

Learn more about how edge computing use cases and how Verizon can help support the development of edge solutions for your business.