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Exclusive: 5G-powered software will disrupt retail and give it a complete makeover

From chat bots to evolving AI and AR/VR applications, the future of retail will be shaped by 5G-powered software unlike anything we've seen before.

AI and machine learning will see retail software adapt and evolve to better serve customers “The potential for 5G in the retail sector is immense and it will raise the bar of customer expectation to a whole new level" -Gautam Kumar, COO & Co-founder, FarEye “The future of retail is hyper-personalisation for the hyper-connected consumer" -Michael Osborne, CEO, SmarterHQ

Ten years after 4G first rolled out, we await 5G’s arrival in 2019. With it, we’ve been promised endless innovation: internet connection speeds 20 times faster than 4G’s, IoT-powered smart cities right out of the movies, and cars that drive themselves. 

Such is the future with 5G, and the value to business will be limitless. Retail, for one, will bring consumers user experiences unlike anything they’ve ever seen, powered by groundbreaking new software that melds 5G with innovations such as AI, VR and AR.

What kind of software are we talking about?      

Retail software comes in all shapes and forms. On the logistical end, you’ve got inventory management tools, customer databases, and payment processing, among others. 

On the consumer end, you’ve got e-commerce platforms, user interface software for in-store panels, customer-relationship management systems (CRM), and more. 

Now, 5G is set to revolutionize the entirety of these. 

“With the introduction of 5G connectivity, supply chain and logistics businesses will drastically increase customer engagement by providing highly efficient tracking and tracing capabilities and design more personalized delivery experiences,” Gautam Kumar, COO & Co-founder, FarEye, told AMEinfo. 

“The potential for 5G in the retail sector is immense and it will raise the bar of customer expectation to a whole new level by ensuring easy access to super-fast internet,” he continued. 

“This, in turn, will balloon the demand for online shopping and escalate the need to gratify customers instantly and cost-effectively. Therefore surfaces the need to leverage an advanced SaaS (software as a service) platform that can easily scale orders and deliveries, boost productivity and shrink operational expenses.”

The future of retail 

As we are already seeing today, the future of retail is neither just analogue nor just digital, but both. As such, we have seen the rise of what has become known as omnichannel retail, an amalgamation of both traditional brick and mortar and e-commerce platforms

5G will take this further, powering new software and hardware to elevate the shopper experience.

Charbel Khneisser, Regional Presales Director, EMEA Emerging Markets at Riverbed, shared with AMEinfo the key digital technologies retailers believe will be essential to evolving the retail experience, based on Riverbed’s Digital Performance Global Survey 2018.

The top five among these are:

-Retails apps for inventory tracking (40%)

-Virtual assistants and digital personal shoppers (37%)

-Mobile point of sale (PoS) for better customer transactions (35%)

-Mobile apps with Augmented Reality for virtual product interactions (34%)

-Personalized in-store experiences based on customer loyalty data (34%)

According to Khneisser, “The common factor for all these technologies is that to run successfully, they require seamless high-performance access to information.”

This is where 5G comes in, coupled with the next generation of Wi-Fi, known as Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 6 will allow for a theoretical maximum speed of 9.6 Gbps, triple the 3.5 Gbps of the 5th generation, news site The Verge explains. 

“Together, [5G and Wi-Fi 6] will deliver the connectivity that opens a plethora of opportunities for developing new, never seen before applications,” Khneisser continued. “Imagine walking into a store and using augmented reality (AR) to watch a live demonstration of the product you are pointing to in action! The possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination.”

At this year’s Mobile World Congress 2019, Intel showcased just that – a retail user experience that combines intricate software with the hardware of virtual reality (VR). 

In these cases, specialized software allows the customer to browse a product catalogue where they select an item of interest and view it, either in the completely virtual space (VR) or as holographic images in real space (AR). 

Microsoft’s Holo Lens mixed reality (AR and VR) headset has been used to similar effect in recent years, demonstrating how a customer will interact with products in the future, whether at home or at the store itself. 

Imagine picking a new couch for your living room from the confines of said living room, where using a mixed reality headset like the Holo Lens, you see a holographic image of this couch in your current living room space. You shift it around, turn it, compare its color and texture to your carpets and curtains, eventually deciding to make the purchase. With an integrated e-commerce platform in place, you make the purchase from within this mixed reality preview. Now all you have to do is sit tight as your new sofa makes its way to you.  

Such is the potential made possible through 5G-powered software and technologies.

One on one with the consumer

One of the greatest things that 5G enables is for new software to personalize the retail experience like never before. 

“The future of retail is hyper-personalization for the hyper-connected consumer, Michael Osborne, CEO, SmarterHQ, told VendHQ. “Merchants need to focus on identity resolution: accurately identifying and connecting customer engagement across multiple identifiers, devices and channels.”

This “hyper-personalization” will be made possible through multiple software tools, some of which include digital shopping assistants that track your purchase history and make recommendations based on that. With the speed and connectivity that 5G enables, these customer predictions can be more accurate and informed.

Retailers are on a clock – adapt and transform, or go obsolete

While 5G will arrive this year, it will not see widespread adoption in the MENA region just yet. The number of 5G mobile connections in the region will grow slowly in the first two or three years and will start gaining momentum in 2023, according to GSMA Intelligence.

As such, retailers are on a clock to embrace incoming innovation.

Riverbed’s Khneisser warns: “[The advent of 5G and Wi-Fi 6] presents a call to action for retailers who must leverage these technologies and create new services and offerings. Those that don’t will risk failure, as our survey also found that respondents from the retail sector are aware that if their digital performance or digital experience worsens or does not otherwise improve in the next 12 months, it will impact brand loyalty (50%) and will even result in lost customers (56%).”

“Consider another vital finding of our survey- 40% of IT decision makers lack full visibility across the digital or end-user experience,” Khneisser continued. “Even with 5G’s advanced capabilities, monitoring the performance of applications will prove vital. In fact, as more applications mean more ways for something to go wrong, monitoring the performance of applications and measuring end-user experience will be another factor critical to the success of 5G driven innovation.”