The future of retail is already here 

The retail sector is one of the most advanced in the use of consumer facing technology. Faced with strong competition from online retailers, the use of innovative technology – supported by in-store wireless – is being used to help encourage people back onto the high street and into stores, as well as opening up new revenue streams and services for the stores.

In this blog post we take a look at some of the retailers that are already making use of technology to enhance the customer experience, and the role that wireless plays in providing this.

Picture1Time for dedicated apps

Shopping centres and stores are now increasingly rolling out their own dedicated apps, providing customers with information and support, as well as the latest offers and bargains.

London’s Westfield centre offers a simple, yet effective, example; its app provides customers with offers from their preferred stores, alongside ‘express parking’ that removes the need for a parking ticket to be purchased each visit. 

 

The endless shelf

The downside to shopping online is that we don’t get to see what we’re buying until it arrives, something that puts many people off when it comes to ‘big ticket’ items. On the other hand stores are limited by their physical storage and display space, limiting how much of their range they can stock and display at one time. There’s little more frustrating than seeing something online, visiting the store to see the physical product, and only then finding out it’s not actually in stock.

 

The Retail of Tomorrow project at Heidi.com’s flagship store in Switzerland attempts to tackle this issue, through the concept of the ‘endless shelf’. The store aims to stock a broad selection of its range, rather than a limited selection in many different sizes and editions. Customers can then get their hands on the product in some form, but then use large screens to view, select and order the product in the exact variation and fit required.

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At Burberry’s flagship store on Regent Street, RFID tags are woven into products and accessories, allowing them to be linked to digital product listing and related multimedia content. The mirrors throughout the store are actually screens, which use this information to automatically detect the product being tried-on by the customer and display relevant information.

This system also attempts to enhance the customer’s experience and relationship with the Burberry brand, allowing them to also view runway footage and live streams of fashion events.

The end of queuing

While it may be considered an integral part of the British psyche, queuing is nonetheless a big frustration for shoppers – particularly at the busiest times of the year. It can also lead to sales being lost because some customers will simply not join a long queue.

Retailers are now looking at ways of improving the checkout experience, with point-of-sale (PoS) terminals becoming more dispersed across the shop floor and also providing staff with tablets they can use to display products and take payment.

The other approach is building payment into a dedicated app — something Wagamama rolled out earlier this year. The app enables customers to pay directly and quickly through their smartphone, rather than having to get the attention of staff.

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Smarter customer service

Technology is enabling high street retailers to bring the personalised experience that customers enjoy online increasingly inside their stores, delivering recommendations based on previous purchases.

Rather than requiring a sales assistant to spend time asking questions to establish your likes and dislikes, simply scanning a loyalty card using a tablet can instantly provide the assistant with your purchase history – and even tailored special offers.

This functionality gives store staff more information than they’ve traditionally had access to, allowing them to enhance their credibility with customers, and enabling them to take advantage of information from product reviews and accessory lists that they may not otherwise be familiar with.

Virtual reality

Looking further ahead, virtual reality offers the potential to add a further dimension to both the in-store and at-home shopping experience. We’re already seeing some stores experimenting with this technology, thanks to the consumer-friendly offerings from Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.

A notable example of this is William Hill, who are using it to bring punters much closer to races they’re betting on. Once a bet has been placed on a race, customers get to view the race from the PoV of the rider – in full, interactive 3D.

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Virtual reality could also be used to enhance the experience of customers at home, providing a much better idea of how a sofa or TV would look in their lounge, or by enabling them to explore in-store displays in much more detail.

The wireless need

All of these applications rely on some form of data connectivity, and the vast majority rely upon this being wireless connectivity. Whether that’s a secure and robust Wi-Fi network for staff tablets, or mobile coverage so customers can use your dedicated app, wireless is an essential component in the future of retail.

72% of consumers use their smartphone while shopping and more than half of consumers under the age of 40 use their smartphone to get a second opinion before making a purchase. Without proper connectivity, consumers can’t use their phone and are likely to go elsewhere as a result.

In fact, without proper connectivity, consumers may abandon the store altogether and not come back. Recent research has found that 1 in 4 (25%) shoppers admit that they leave a shop if they can’t get online, and 1 in 4 (25%) leave immediately if the shop does not provide Wi-Fi. By contrast, 1 in 3 (34%) extend their visit and nearly half (46%) return if the connectivity is good.

Retailers therefore need to consider a dedicated in-building wireless system, one that provides a clear business benefit to staff and customers alike. For more information take a look at our recent report on the benefits of wireless to the retail sector: http://www.realwireless.biz/wireless-and-retail/

Industry verticals can see the benefit of 5G — but trust is still an issue

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Last week in Brussels, Real Wireless helped deliver the second and final workshop of the “5G Socioeconomic” study for the European Commission.

The event saw attendees from four vertical sectors — automotive, healthcare, transport and utilities — each with their own needs and priorities for 5G. For example, automotive and transport were looking to reduce accidents and traffic congestion, utilities to reduce energy costs and healthcare needed to improve access and care provision.

During the workshop, participants were tasked with validating 5G for their own sector. They needed to identify the top three 5G capabilities from a list of nine which are part of the capabilities developed by the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN) for their own industry. For each, participants captured the economic value, social value and other values — in each case identifying if the value was high, medium or low. Prioritising the capabilities helped those involved realise which were of most value to each sector.

Participants were also tasked with discussing the value of 5G in four key environments; smart homes, smart workplaces, smart cities and non-urban environments. Participants identified the economic, social, environmental and other impacts and value in each environment and subsequently mapped the results to each of the 5G capabilities.

The results — scalability is key
Understandably, the capabilities and requirements varied between sectors. So where healthcare saw the need for a “dynamic increase of network capacity on the fly”, those in utilities did not see that as a key capability.

However, almost all vertical sectors had at least one common capability requirement, such as the ability to deliver a scalable Internet of Things or sensor solution.

The ‘trust and control’ barrier
Before 5G can become a real success, however, concerns were raised around trust. With 5G, industries and businesses will be running their “virtualised” networks over third-party infrastructure. So, many were understandably concerned by the lack of control they would have over that network. Who would be liable for any costs incurred by network outages? And how would operators address concerns around security?

To address these trust issues, verticals argue that network operators will have to relinquish control of their 5G network slice or solution. If we get to a stage where there is harmonised spectrum and stable, reasonable, coherent regulation and policies, industries will buy into 5G, manufacturers will want to produce hardware, there will be economies of scale and no need for more physical networks (verticals that need a network can become MVNOs over 5G).

These findings clearly highlight that industries are willing to embrace 5G, but there are still certain aspects that need careful consideration before each widely adopts it. Based on this feedback, the project team will later write up into its second workshop report. Watch this space…

Strength to strength

The wireless industry has changed significantly since Real Wireless was founded in 2007. Wireless customers face ever-changing demands for even better technology, with increasing customer and workforce expectations of what wireless can achieve. The role Real Wireless plays is a vital one, building the gap between the wireless industry and wireless users by providing independent expert advice to both sides. We help businesses to meet these increasing demands of wireless by aligning the right technology with specific use cases and identifying market drivers and commercial opportunities to inform investment decisions. To achieve this, Real Wireless has expanded its pool of experts and strengthened its management structure to ensure that our clients are always able to stay one step ahead of the competition. From autumn 2015, Real Wireless Co-Founder and Commercial Director Mark Keenan will take over as CEO. Existing Director of Technology Professor Simon Saunders leaves at the end of the year for a role with Google but will retain his share interest in the company. Julie Bradford will become responsible for Technical Quality; Oliver Bosshard takes over delivery and budgets and John Okas will continue to develop new business and be responsible for sales. Mark Keenan said: “This is a busy time for Real Wireless with significant long-term projects that include our involvement in the European 5G NORMA programme, substantial work items for two large international operators on mobile technology strategy, recent analysis for Cisco and Airvana, and ongoing support for sports venues and stadia. I want to thank Simon for his commitment to the company we set up together, he has played a significant role building the business and setting us on a road to success. We have a strong team, a healthy order book and a leadership role as experts-of-choice in one of the world’s most vibrant and expansive industries.”