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Why the future for brick-and-mortar may hinge on faster networks.

 

The next-gen era will transform the way we shop—not only online and from our smartphones, but in stores too. Improved network speeds and lower latency on our phones are crucial ingredients in retail’s next evolution. For retailers, a shift in the way they approach their business is essential to stay competitive in this fast-changing landscape.

While innovative offerings—from AI-based customization to virtual dressing rooms—aren’t unheard of in today’s industry, tomorrow’s technology could boost functionality and enable an industry-wide shift in customer experience and personalization. Imagine trying on a jacket you love, walking away because it’s too expensive and then later receiving an email that it’s now 30% off. This is just one example of how brick-and-mortar retailers might leverage customer data to engage customers based on their individual behaviors and drive sales.

Personal shopping goes next-level.

Alice Fournier, vice president of e-commerce and omnichannel for Kantar, explained that an ambitious vision exists for what data and connectivity can do in the physical shopping space. “5G is about the ability to deliver on these new connected experiences and to process data much faster,” she said. The reality? Current systems haven’t caught up just yet.

For now, retailers capable of capitalizing on cutting-edge technology are absorbing significant costs. And those prohibitive costs make connected experiences very niche, added Fournier. But 5G presents an opportunity for tech to scale outside of a few niche markets.

By leveraging the benefits of high-speed, low-latency mobile networks, retailers will be in a position to customize offers and create experiences for their customers in ways they couldn’t previously.

“A loyal shopper can walk into the store and receive personalized offers based on previous purchases,” predicted Fournier. She also noted that retailers will seek to take advantage of proximity functions in which they can up-sell customers by delivering offers or suggestions to mobile devices, even as they approach a particular shelf.

Customized service, less shopper frustration.

“You may have a situation where a customer’s navigational pattern in the store will come into play,” she said. “If I’m standing in front of the shelf for a certain amount of time, perhaps a staff member can be alerted to help me.”

It may be a few years into the future, but because 5G can process data so much faster, it enables retailers to track shoppers more precisely. And eventually, according to Fournier, it will affect the point of sale and the types of technologies used at checkout in order to reduce time spent in line.

For instance, you could pay directly via mobile checkout or have items charged to your account as soon as you leave, much like Amazon Go stores. “These technologies already exist, but retailers need the power to process these transactions faster. All of this becomes more seamless with faster mobile networks,” she said.

The hurdles leading up to a lucrative finish line.

For any retailer, especially those with brick-and-mortar locations, next-gen networks provide a lot to navigate: from managing potential costs to building an acute understanding of new technology, tools and experiences. Fournier advises retailers to adopt this mindset: Next-gen technology can enable them to build their identity and strengthen their brand.

“You don’t want to deploy technology for the sake of technology,” she said. “It’s easy to get lost in wanting to put the coolest thing out there, but you want the solution that will deliver the best results and experience for your customer.”

As brick-and-mortar stores embrace a more digital strategy, significant HR challenges are unavoidable. According to Fournier, there may be a shift in the role employees play as stores become more automated, for example. “There are questions there in terms of resourcing and what the connected store means,” she said. “It’s important, however, for all employees to understand that it’s not technology taking over people’s jobs necessarily, but it may change what they do day-to-day.”

Despite concerns that technology will replace humans in the retail industry, employees are optimistic. A recent survey reported that almost two-thirds (62%) of respondents agreed that new technologies would generate new job opportunities.

If rolled out properly, a thoughtful digital strategy can enhance customer engagement. Further, it’s expected that today’s mobile-obsessed modern consumers will respond if there’s enough incentive to go brick-and-mortar—even if that means a trip to the mall.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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