The rise of mobile communications and what it means for retail

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What's next for mobile communications?

3 December 1992. Memorable date? For some, yes – it was the first time a text message was sent over mobile network. An incredible achievement at the time, however what wasn’t anticipated was how Neil Papwell’s simple "Merry Christmas" text 25 years ago would change the world.

Today, streaming one of Netflix’s 5,000+ shows while on a beach in Australia is passé. By 2020 there will be 50bn connected devices using the latest mobile technology – the 4th generation (4G).

So, the question we always ask is, “what’s next?”

By 2021 the 5th generation platform (5G) will be fully operable and widespread. 5G gives download speeds of 10,000Mbps - 4G in the UK maxes out at 28Mbps. This is when smart cities and a fully networked society become a reality.

Let's throw in another term; massive machine communications. Basically, this means all those 50bn devices talking to each other, seamlessly, at light speed. The eventuality of this will be Artificial Intelligence and machine learning far beyond what we know today.

OK, all very interesting. But what does it mean to the retail world?

We’ve talked before about virtual assistants. The speed and sophistication of this communication will increase massively. Now combine this with our old friend 'big data'. Shopper analytics is an ever growing part of Lick’s portfolio of services, driving a much deeper understanding of shopper behaviour and allowing more tailored and personalised offers to the shopper. In summary, analytics weaves together structured and unstructured data. This would be information such as past purchases, personal preferences, location, social media conversations and monitoring, to create a sophisticated layer of understanding of an individual consumer.

H&M and Sephora are two brands that are investing in this area through chatbots. With a huge rise in communications through chat apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, shoppers are ready for a non-human personal interaction. These will drive sales with one-to-one experiences on mobile that mimic in-store interactions. With 5G, shoppers will interact at a phenomenal speed and enjoy a hugely rewarding experience.

5G will also massively influence the VR/AR/MR (Mixed Reality) area. Goldman Sachs is estimating that the global VR/AR market will grow to $80bn by 2025. VR at retail is a hotly debated topic – done well it can really enhance the shopping experience. It allows browsing through a massive catalogue of inventory – far more than a store could possibly ever show. Shoppers can place themselves in environments where they would use the product and get a real feel for how these would fit in with their lives. Take Ikea’s latest offering – going beyond its VR app it has launched an Ikea store that never closes . An online tool that allows you to 'walk' around the store, browse and even buy products – all without leaving your sofa.

Digital signage will also be hugely affected by 5G’s incredible speed. With the ever-present issue of firewalls, coverage and speed of traditional wifi, in-store screens often cannot live up to their full potential. However, with the ability to stream 8K video for example, the shopper will be immersed in a rich environment, and an ever-greater quality and quantity of information can be displayed.

Finally, at least for the moment, let’s think about in-store navigation. With Lick Creative and Delta’s many years of experience, we know that signage and navigation in-store is pivotal to ensure the shopper is presented with the right information at the right time and can easily find what they are looking for, in addition to maybe showing them something they weren’t looking for.

The evolution of navigation apps that use indoor wifi, visual light communications (VLC) and beacons will allow retailers to precisely track shoppers movements and an optimum route for a personalised journey.

Ultimately as all in-store innovations should do, the introduction of 5G networks will increase shopper engagement, dwell time, and, of course, basket size.

One of Lick Creative’s many services to our clients is to help steer a course through the increasingly complex world of retail technology. We’d love you to come and join us at our Retail Innovations lab to talk about how we can help meet your challenges.

Mark Sibborn is managing director at Lick, part of the Delta Group.

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