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/

Study Finds Major Cost Advantages in New Enterprise LTE Wireless Approach

Analysis finds Cloud RAN small cells save 69% of costs vs. DAS

Airvana, a leading provider of small cell solutions, and Real Wireless, independent expert advisors in wireless technology, today announced a study revealing that a Cloud RAN small cell solution can reduce costs by 69%, compared to traditional distributed antenna system (DAS) solutions.

The Real Wireless study concluded that Cloud RAN (or C-RAN) Small Cells were less expensive in all scenarios considered, including multi-operator deployments where DAS has previously been considered superior to small cells.  The study examined the use of C-RAN LTE small cells as an alternative to LTE DAS in both upgrades of existing DAS and in new “greenfield” DAS deployments.   Both large and small building deployments were analyzed, and both active and passive DAS.

The full white paper, exploring the analysis and results in detail, is available at: www.airvana.com/c-ran-economics/.

Cloud RAN (C-RAN) architecture achieves performance and economic benefits by centralizing “baseband” and scheduling functions– the core processing by which the system allocates wireless resources among users and services.  Airvana’s OneCell, which recently won the GSMA’s Best Mobile Technology Breakthrough award at Mobile World Congress 2015, was used as the basis of the comparison to DAS.  It uses a C-RAN architecture and goes even further by tightly coordinating the LTE access points throughout a building to behave as a single cell, eliminating interference and handovers. As such, C-RAN small cells share many of the positive attributes of DAS that have been the preferred indoor wireless solution for large enterprises and public spaces. Due to its high costs, however, DAS is practical for use in only a tiny fraction of enterprise buildings.

Real Wireless was commissioned to conduct the study due to their extensive experience in real-world in-building wireless solutions. The study authors have been responsible for the design and installation of hundreds of in-building systems. As a result Real Wireless was able to take a holistic view of a rollout. Not only were equipment costs taken into account, but also related costs such as cable materials, installation labor, project management, design and recurring operating expenses – in all over 90 line items for each scenario.

Professor Simon Saunders, Real Wireless director of technology, led the study team. “While we have long seen the potential for enterprise small cells, this is the first time a definitive cost comparison has been conducted. Significant savings are encountered even for multi-operator situations and smaller buildings, heralding potentially explosive growth on the tiny (<2%) penetration of dedicated wireless solutions in office buildings to date.”

The analysis found that many of the savings of the OneCell C-RAN approach derive from its simplified “Wi-Fi-like” deployment model, using standard Ethernet LANs for in-building distribution rather than fiber/coax cabling and remote radio heads.  This approach generated significant savings in solution design, cabling materials, installation labor, and project management. It also improved ongoing flexibility to add and redistribute capacity in response to changes in user demand.

“The realization that enterprises were under-served by legacy solutions motivated us to develop OneCell,” said Richard Lowe, president and CEO, Airvana. “The rigorous analysis by Real Wireless confirms the value of C-RAN small cells. OneCell will make quality indoor LTE service affordable to a much broader enterprise segment.”