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5G will transform the retail experience

We’ve all heard about the rollout of the 5G mobile network and what it will mean for us as consumers, like almost instantaneous download speeds and ultra-reliable network connectivity.

 For businesses, the potential of 5G opens doors to revolutionary changes that will transform British industries. According to research, 5G could power up the UK economy by almost £16 billion in the next five years, but this will only come into fruition if businesses are educated on how and when to make the most of the new network.

High streets across Britain are a visual reminder of the turmoil the retail industry has experienced in recent years. A report from the Local Data Company (LDC) highlights that 2019 has seen the biggest rise in retail closures in five years, with over 7,500 more empty shops than 2018 –  a 37% increase in closures than last year, and it’s not over yet. 

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Retailers face increasingly tougher challenges each year with rising operating costs, rent, business rates and looming political uncertainty being amongst the top concerns for the industry. 

What’s more, the consistent rise in global e-commerce giants, such as Amazon, have made it simpler, easier and more convenient for shoppers to source products globally online, which as a result has led to a boom in ecommerce sales, and a significant drop in footfall. 

As an industry that has struggled to adapt to changing consumer behaviour, 5G is a welcome opportunity to transform the user experience for consumers and exceed the digital demands of today’s shoppers But embracing 5G will not come without its risks, as it opens doors to capacity issues and increased threats to security. 

The potential

The rollout of 5G will be the catalyst for digital transformation in retail. Ever-changing consumer behaviours as a result of our increasingly connected world, means that expectations for ultimate convenience, personalisation and a seamless experience is at an all time high.

5G is set to revolutionise the way connectivity is delivered as it will be 30 times faster than current network infrastructure and will thus allow for seemingly instantaneous, two-way data transfer. For retailers, this low-latency connectivity is tipped to help meet the increasing digital demands of customers, paving the way for brand new technologies that will transform the industry, both in-store and online.

For example, imagine trying new clothes in a dressing room that automatically totals the amount you would spend, or looking into a mirror that automatically suggests accessories for the outfit you are trying on? If the product is out of stock, intelligent technology could locate the item online and have it delivered to your home automatically, without the need to search for it yourself. 

This technology transformation goes beyond the shop floor; smart storage solutions with IoT embedded sensors will also enable retailers to better keep track of stock levels, using Artificial Intelligence (AI) that constantly monitors products, and alerts when stocks are low. 

This may sound far-fetched, but the reality is that once 5G is in use, retailers will have the opportunity to implement artificial intelligence and virtual reality to tailor shopping experiences and staff efficiency right down to individual needs.This personalisation is the key to restoring the retail industry back to its former glory.

5G: The retail reality check

Enticed by the possibilities of 5G, retailers are at risk of overlooking the security concerns which arise with the next generation network. Whether they’re unaware of the security threats at hand, or daunted by the challenge of transitioning from legacy systems and the costs this involves, retailers should be careful not to neglect their security infrastructure.

Of course, it would be misguided to let security fears stunt technological progress but, as 5G paves the way for a fully connected digital world, businesses will only have the scope to fulfil 5G’s potential if they have the right foundations in place.

Despite the seemingly limitless opportunities that 5G presents to retailers, the network is no quick fix for the high street. The reality is that many organisations won’t see significant progress with 5G until 2021 and so retailers mustn’t let the hype around 5G cloud their judgement. 

The infrastructure challenges posed by 5G means the rollout will be much more gradual than the seemingly sudden launch of 4G. Communications providers are only now beginning to implement the necessary infrastructure and many practical aspects remain undefined. 

Such drastic changes come with a hefty price tag, so retailers must ensure their proposed implementations are supported to reap the benefits of their investment. Retailers trying to jump the gun by initiating technologies that cannot be supported by their current network, risk wasting their investment and exposing themselves to harmful data breaches.

Some retailers will miss the boat – for them, after all the excitement, 5G will simply represent faster speeds. But those with the foresight will use 5G to innovate and explore the unknown realms of the network.

Further down the line, the next generation network will enable a fully connected, smart way of living. The Internet of Things – millions of devices communicating in real-time to create a seamless digital ecosystem – will no longer be a buzzword but rather, normality that is revolutionising the shopping experience.


Iain Shearman managing director at KCOM

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