5G Networks will use AR/VR to Enable Next-gen Shopping Experiences

Shopping has changed considerably in the last decade from brick and mortar store locations to massive e-commerce online marketplaces. Now, the latest frontier in the consumer shopping experience will use augmented/ virtual reality (AR/VR) powered by 5G cellular networks to create seamless digital and in-store experiences for millions of shoppers across the globe.

While it may sound a bit futuristic that the next-gen shopping experience will be a virtual one, according to a recent survey by GfK, more than 68% of consumers recognize VR/AR technologies as a viable option.

Currently, only 5% of shoppers are using AR/VR technologies, but according to the survey, more than 25% of respondents indicated that they are likely to try AR/VR in the next year.

The lag in adoption of AR/VR based technologies has been due to a lack of viable network through which deploy AR/VR technologies. Now, with the build-out of 5G networks underway in the U.S and globally and entry of new 5G smartphones- that equation is about to change.

Gartner Inc. estimates that 100 million consumers will shop using AR/VR online and in-store, by the end of 2020.

“Retailers are under increasing pressure to explain the purpose of physical stores, and take control of the fulfillment and return process for cross-channel execution,” said Hanna Karki, principal research analyst at Gartner. “At the same time, consumers are progressively defining the value provided by the experiences they receive from retailers. As a result of these pressures, retailers are turning to AR and VR to offer customers a unified retail experience inside and outside retail stores.”

Consumer brands like The North Face, Alibaba, IKEA, Macy’s and many others are already using AR/VR based technologies to boost their brands with the final goal of creating virtual stores where a customer could choose and buy products.

Verizon Media, the advertising and content unit of the phone company, announced that it’s signed up Macy’s for its latest augmented reality (AR) ad formats, according to a recent release.

‘IKEA’s Place smartphone app enables customers to virtually ‘place’ the company’s products in their space to help customers visualize what furniture might look like in customers’ living rooms, bedrooms, offices, and any other place.

Toms shoe company chain put Samsung VR headsets into 100 of their stores with a promotional video, which the company uses as a tool to deliver new and exciting experiences to in-store customers. As part of the company’s campaign to donate a pair of shoes for every pair sold, the video shows a trip to Peru with panoramic views of schools and kids getting boxes of shoes.

Gartner’s recent 5G enterprise survey indicated that AR/VR applications of 5G attract the highest expectations for becoming drivers of new revenue, across all use cases and respondents. 5G capabilities can support uses cases, such as real-time rendering for immersive video, shorter download and set-up times, and the extension of brands and shopping experiences through AR/VR will enable retailers to create immersive and seamless connected online and instore experiences.

As access to 5G networks increases, in-building environments will soon require a robust 5G connectivity both to attract consumers and tenants. Landlords who want to remain relevant and competitive will need to offer enhanced 5G connectivity both helping merchants store, distribute merchandise, and create immersive in-store shopping experiences for consumers.

Shopping centers, malls, theaters, apartment buildings, warehouses literally any indoor location will require 5G to manage bandwidth and latency requirements of deploying AR/VR based applications.

While most consumers will first notice AR/VR tech-enabled solutions designed for front-end customer engagement tools, AR/VR is also expected to play a significant role behind the scenes, according to analysts.

“Gartner expects that the implementation of 5G and AR/VR in stores will transform not only customer engagement but also the entire product management cycle of brands,” said Sylvain Fabre, senior research director at Gartner. “5G can optimize warehouse resources, enhance store traffic analytics, and enable beacons that communicate with shoppers’ smartphones.

Virtual reality-based immersive interfaces will enable retailers to create task efficiencies or reduce the costs associated with designing new products. Retailers will be able to gain a deeper understanding of information through advanced graphical visualization and simulation technologies.

For example, since design issues related to such VR stores are similar to those in a real physical environment, retailers will use AR/VR to visualize store designs, do A/B tests of different layouts and test consumer acceptance. Shelf and assortment layout is one particular area that has already been given a go in many VR projects. Store chains could benefit from the ability to check the performance of a store in the context of its layout.

Retailers are still in the early stages of harnessing the capabilities via AR/VR. However, as they experiment with AR/VR and more 5G handsets are released, commercial real estate owners will need to upgrade their in-building connectivity systems to enable consumers to access 5G networks.

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