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Why 5G Could Be What Retailers Need to Recover in 2021

The hype of 5G wireless technology is catching on within retail circles, with 77 percent of the industry’s decision makers indicating that businesses that do not adopt 5G will fall behind their peers, according to a Verizon Business survey.

Of the 200 retail decision makers polled, 84 percent said that 5G is valuable for two major reasons. First, 5G can enable real-time data processing, which can potentially maximize cost efficiency from the point of sale to product delivery. And second, retailers say it could improve their ability to analyze foot traffic, and better pinpoint dwell points in store. which in turn would enable dynamic floor plans and displays that maximize product positioning.

Although retailers think these scenarios are the most valuable, 60 percent say their top priority in using 5G tech right now is enhancing wireless internet speed and reliability. This “fifth generation” of cellular technology is designed to give companywide employees real-time, immediate visibility into enterprise-wide level data via mobile device to perform tasks more efficiently, and in the long run may foster autonomous checkout and even last-mile autonomous delivery adoption.

Michele Dupré, group vice president of retail, hospitality/travel and distribution vertical at Verizon Business, recommended retailers to take after their sports and entertainment counterparts to capitalize on other untapped opportunities.

“For instance, many venues within sports and entertainment are already using 5G to elevate the fan experience,” said Dupré. “Understanding this, retailers should look to promote their brand into a fan environment that will drive unparalleled engagement and unleash a new way to connect with consumers.”

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For example, 78 percent of sports, entertainment and media decision makers pointed to the benefits of leveraging 5G to activate AR and VR experiences.

Luckily, it seems retailers are getting the picture here—80 percent believe that giving customers the ability to shop from anywhere using AR and VR via 5G would be a valuable use case. Now, retailers can leverage the tech for two different kinds of shoppers: those who have returned to the store and those who are still uncomfortable resuming in-person shopping.

“For both cohorts, AR/VR can enhance the customer experience and create an immersive environment for shoppers, bridging the physical experience with the virtual while still providing convenience,” said Dupré. “Shopping from anywhere with access to detailed product visualization takes e-commerce to a new level. Also at the core of AR/VR will be driving brand awareness and creating unique engagements that entice consumers, such as product comparisons, virtual fitting rooms and more.”

Of course, another major area retailers have sought to get a tighter hold on via digitization, specifically throughout the pandemic, has been the supply chain. Of the retail executives surveyed, 78 percent said having 5G technology would enable them to better digitally process and track inventory in real time. Dupré noted that 5G can improve automation in the supply chain by providing retailers with real-time data for loss prevention, allowing them to better measure inventory.

“Retailers clearly understand the importance of 5G,” Dupré said. “With this in mind, I think retailers are all at different levels of planning and execution when incorporating 5G applications. I think the success that the early adopters will have will spur on the next rung, seeing the competitive advantage it provides.”

The concerns about the supply chain are even more prominent on the manufacturing side, where 88 percent of execs link 5G’s value to its ability to track the supply chain in real time, whether it’s knowing where a product is from shipment to shelves or aiming to combat theft and fraud, all while responding to inventory demands. Eighty-seven percent also agree that the technology allows for real-time tracking of capacity and production.

Nearly half (49 percent) of the 200 manufacturing respondents surveyed said that 5G deployment would have a “transformational” impact on supporting system automation, the highest rank among all industries surveyed. On average, 37 percent of respondents across industries believed 5G to be transformational to the automation of processes and operations.

Confidence in 5G is rising

Across the various industries surveyed, it appears there is confidence that 5G is going to be at least a part of the solution for businesses going forward. Sixty-nine percent of the 700 business technology decision makers polled across the U.S. believe 5G will help their company overcome the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eighty percent of the survey respondents agreed that 5G would provide new growth opportunities for their companies. While 5G’s upfront costs ranked as the highest barrier to adoption (41 percent), an inability to make a clear business case (10 percent) ranked among the lowest barriers, highlighting the high confidence among business executives regarding the power of 5G.

When asked how 5G will transform their industry, decision makers most commonly referenced faster speed (25 percent), with enhanced productivity and data transfer capabilities coming in at 9 percent each.

Nearly half (48 percent) of decision makers said their companies have already provided or are planning to provide a 5G-capable smartphone or device to employees within the next six months.

The survey was conducted in partnership with Morning Consult to gauge interest in deploying 5G and specific use cases within various industries, including retail, manufacturing, sports/entertainment/media, government/public sector and healthcare.