Regardless of whether you think it’s a good idea for the market or a legal misstep, the T-Mobile and Sprint merger is going to put 5G on a faster track. Exactly how fast the technology will be a consumer factor depends on the prognosticator you subscribe to. But one thing is clear. For retailers, 5G stands to be an opportunity to get closer to consumers and amp up the in-store experience.
The new combined company “will compete for consumers at all price points, and customers including prepaid and Lifeline will have access to the same 5G network and services,” a report from Zachs Equity Research said of the T-Mobile and Sprint merger. “With speeds up to five times faster than current LTE in just a few years and reaching as much as 15 times faster by 2024, New T-Mobile’s 5G network will likely change the way consumers use the Internet. ... It will deliver 100-plus Mbps speeds for wireless broadband to 90% of the population and in-home service to more than half the country’s households by 2024.”
Retailers won’t have to wait that long to see an impact because limited 5G networks will be a reality much faster than 2024. For the in-store experience, the major 5G changes will involve increased bandwidth to accommodate artificial intelligence, advanced personalization and immersive experiences such as augmented reality.
For example, AT&T has pitched retailers the “dressing room of the future,” which has already debuted at Neiman Marcus. Interactive “magic mirrors” can recognize the products someone tries on through an RFID tag. Data from that experience could then be used to display personalized ads in real time. Additionally, shoppers can post a new purchase or maybe get some input, and they could quickly and easily post the image on social media or send a text.
“When stores begin using 5G networks, customers and employees will have the mobile capability for these types of interactions and data collections,” according to AT&T Business. “What’s more, the personalized experience doesn’t have to end when the shopper leaves the store. During the interaction, you can seamlessly collect data such email address, sizes, style preferences, and use it to send targeted offers. Imagine opting not to buy a product after trying it on due to a steep price, only to receive an email a few days later letting you know it’s on sale.”
Verizon has focused its early retail work on extending the in-store experience to the after-store experience. In its world, 5G has the potential for retailers to engage with customers before and after their visit to the store. Because 5G will enable greater location accuracy inside the store, retailers can find items for instant promotion or future promotion after shoppers leave.
“Today, people are used to being connected all the time, but 5G will take interactions to the next level. With better connectivity, a business will be able to understand what their customers are doing and what they want,” Cisco explained in a blog post. “For example, a store could use sensors in tags to identify what you’re trying on in real-time. They could then offer similar options or provide post-transaction offers based on your preferences for a more personalized experience.”
Intel is already working with a retail solutions provider in China that is bringing 5G to life. Cloudpick’s retail technology offers a grab-and-go retail experience based on computer vision and machine learning. Shoppers download a QR, pay, leave and receive a receipt via email.
5G also makes video chat viable. A customer could access a video assistant to direct them to the exact location of an item rather than searching the store for a salesperson. Bottom line, the future of retail will be enabled by 5G. With Sprint and T-Mobile working together, you can bet that destinations like department stores and malls — both of which could use the help — will be important showcases.