5G: Glide Through the Virtual, Online and Physical Retail Worlds
The fun of try-before-you-buy and the comfort of shopping online and zipping through checkout: here’s why 5G will take the retail experience to another level.
You are on your way home from work and need to pick a few things from the supermarket. Before leaving the office, you made a list of things to purchase on an app on your 5G-enabled mobile. The app scans through the inventories at the supermarkets on your route and tells you which store has all the items that you want to buy. Once inside the store, your app navigates you to the aisles where you will find the products you want. A robot follows you around the store to carry your shopping.
As you scan through the available brands and products, your augmented reality wearable display shows the price, ingredients and other features of each product that you are considering. It matches the product information with your health goals and other preferences. As you select and place the products in your shopping basket (the robot), the RFID tags are scanned and your bill is being prepared simultaneously. Once you are done, you exit the store (the robot following you) and your payment is automatically done through a linked credit or debit card. The robot helps you place your shopping in your car and you drive away.
We can see this grand concept unfolding slowly and steadily. Retailers and brands have been experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and other emerging technologies to deliver a tailored and engaging retail experience. Some of the experiments include interactive dressing rooms, continuous inventory management, virtual product trials, drone deliveries and walk-through checkout. A robust 5G network underpins these concepts. The low latency and high throughput that is required to process and execute tasks using the emerging technologies is provided by a 5G network.
Recognising the importance of the 5G network, AT&T and Badger Technologies have worked together to test 5G connectivity for robots in a retail environment. These robots will help with store inventory management. Drone delivery solutions firm Valqari is working with Sprint to develop a smart mailbox with HTC 5G Hub connectivity. The two firms affirm that the high-speed 5G connectivity will be fundamental to ensure seamless communication between drones for automated delivery.2 AT&T has also pitched the idea of a ‘dressing room of the future’ which has already been used by Neiman Marcus. The data collected by these ‘Magic Mirrors’ via RFID tags can be used to display personalised ads in real time. 5G networks will aid such real-time data collection and analysis.3
Even the online experience is being transformed using 5G technology. Japanese firm KDDI and Facebook have collaborated to create virtual shopping experiences supported by the 5G network.4 Retailers have not been deploying 5G only to enhance retail processes. Walmart and Verizon plan to equip stores with 5G technology to support digital health services, facilitating video chats with doctors and transmission of real-time medical data.5
To provide a sneak peek into the 5G-enabled world, designer Henry Holland and Three used mixed-reality technology to enable customers to have an almost-realistic glimpse of ‘living room of the future.’ Retailers and brands have been investing in 5G research. For instance, Alibaba plans to setup a 5G research lab which will focus on applications in VR, entertainment and ecommerce. Meanwhile, Surrey Heath Borough Council, Huawei UK and the University of Surrey’s 5G innovation centre are developing a test-bed — Camberley’s the Square shopping centre — to apply innovations in retail.
With all the research underway, perhaps we will soon use AR and VR glasses to enter a retail environment virtually and do your shopping, which will later be delivered at our doorstep by drones. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to 5G application in retail.
Learn more about this topic by attending any of the 5G Expo World Series events:
5G Expo North America 2020 (4-5 November)
5G Expo Europe 2020 (24-25 November)
5G Expo Global 2021 (17-18th March 2021)