In an op-ed for PSFK, author Christopher Nurko explores the emerging drivers of value in retail, outlining how 5G technology can help retailers deliver excellent experiences at all stages along the path to purchase

The term “value” is often seen as the destination or end goal for companies in the retail space. However, the journey to get there requires traversing a road often travelled, but scarcely conquered. With automation looming on the horizon, navigating this road becomes even trickier.

In order to understand the new, emerging drivers of value in retail, one has to look at two sets of complementary data: the consumer truths that drive shopper behaviors and the trends (in particular, technology trends) driving shifts in the retail landscape in response to consumer demands.

The value journey starts with awareness, then comes the fun part: search, compare, select, purchase, delivery, unboxing setting it up or trying it on, followed by a sense of enjoyment or a desire to return, and (if successful) ending with an action to subscribe. The ability for retail brands to deliver an experience across all of these steps and integrate deeper customer understanding is where the road becomes smoother, and ultimately, where the future of retail lies.

The “front of shop” innovation question that retailers are asking themselves centers on acquiring customers and converting them to being more than just “one and done” transactions. The answer can often be found within relevant brand positioning strategies that build customer input, services and value into the marketing offer of the brand. It also means incorporating more sophisticated tools into shopper marketing and understanding.

Innovations in this area are not just consumer-facing or designed to improve an interface. For instance, it’s not always about the revamped store design or self-service checkouts. The back of the shop and the supply chain are also undergoing a massive transformation in efficiency, as the ability for consumers to buy anything from anywhere, in stores or online (through phones, tablets or laptops) and then choose a time and variety of delivery locations is an inherent challenge. The role of technology to manage these logistics and processing becomes increasingly vital. New methods of inventory, data updates, tracking, delivery, payment and warehousing mean sensors, scanners, robots and data analytics is crucial to fulfilment. The “chain” must be nimble and necessitates a rethink of how to achieve this in congested urban environments as well as in remote or rural locations. The development of drone delivery and technology is now finding a B2B application, and new partnerships are emerging such as the partnership as well as the US Postal Service and Amazon.

The 2019 National Retail Federation and Consumer Electronics Show conventions highlighted the convergence between technologies like machine learning, AI, automation and robotics, and surfaced the potential of 5G to assist in greater data/content streaming. The value that AR and VR can offer with voice (through virtual assistants) now give consumers the ability to experience a new kind of digital power, in a new age of convenience.

The integration of chat bot tech, immersive shopping and geo-located tracking and delivery is redefining how consumers shop and expect shopping to be delivered. Gap and Warby Parker in the U.S. have been rolling out AR to “virtually” try on eyewear, clothes and other products to mix digital tech with physical experience and purchase. These two innovations of service and product give consumers the experience of personalization and control, while eliminating or at least reducing the number of returned items or dissatisfied consumers because customers have already “tried” it before they bought it.

The drivers of consumer behaviors include demands for faster, easier, personal, beautiful and meaningful brand experiences that cross product, services, user interface and customer experience. The move towards using customer data in a secure, protected and proactive manner is critical for all brands (especially in retail) to drive relevant promotions, develop relevant products and create differentiated experiences.

The ability for consumers to create tailor-made shopping experiences and blend the benefits of both the online world and brick-and-mortar experience is about to be transformed. This new world of real-time, on-demand and immersive-rich content is being made possible by the advent of 5G. The increased bandwidth and capability of our devices and the ability of data to be transformed into multi-sensory and personalized experiences means the world of the consumer is about to expand dramatically.

Some may think of 5G as the next step up for phone data, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the next level of customer experience retailers have been waiting for. With 5G, retailers can help power new, innovative technologies with more speed and reliability, gather more data and ultimately help build a long-lasting relationship with customers.

The integration of 5G can help power new technologies like magic mirrors, RFID tagging, personalized digital signage, AR, VR, video and pattern recognition of shoppers and interactive mobile apps. Automation in the form of unmanned stores that require no checkout, no cash and no sales personnel will go mainstream in the near future. (Near future is the operative phrase here, because already, in China and now in the U.S., these retail experiences sync customer identification and payments via QR codes, scanning and e-wallets to transact safely and securely with efficiency.)

Companies like IKEA, Zara, Nespresso, Container Store and Amazon Go are pioneering this in retail, as contactless shopping eliminates the need for hassles such as checkout lines. Automated robot-stores and sales assistants can supplement this and allow for flexible and contactless shopping on a “popup” basis. All of this challenges brands to define what their ideal customer experience is, and how that fits customer expectations and demands while integrating with customers' own technology via devices.

Christopher Nurko.

These fresh technologies will bring a new dimension to customer experience and hopefully act as the saving grace many brick-and-mortar retailers desperately need in order to come up against e-commerce. The value destination will draw nearer. But the road to get there might require a few nifty gadgets along the way.

Christopher Nurko oversees the Co:Lab offer of C Space and the Interbrand Group within Omnicom. A creative strategist and innovator, Christopher has over 25 years’ experience in the field of branding and has worked for many of the world’s leading brands. A particular expert in the field of Aviation and Travel & Hospitality, he has led or been a principle member involved in the branding initiatives of companies including Hilton Hotels and  British Airways, as well as numerous other famous brands such as Nespresso, London 2012 Olympics, Kraft Foods, Visa International, Cadillac and Unilever.

Lead image: stock photos from MONOPOLY919/Shutterstock