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5G will blur the line between physical and digital retail

Against a backdrop of turmoil in 2020, the retail industry overall is set for growth in 2021. With digital transformation efforts accelerating under urgent conditions, investments in digital infrastructure should grow this year. And as 5G networks are finally starting to take off, the technology could bring about positive changes for retail in the near and long terms.

Retailers will invest in 5G to enhance the customer experience, both in-store and online. AR/VR applications and payment systems will be beneficiaries on the customer side. Store operations like inventory management and fulfillment will be bolstered by investments in store data/analytics and internet of things (IoT) systems, including computer vision systems.

According to a January 2020 Splunk survey, 21% of retail IT and business managers worldwide said 5G services were currently in use by their organization. Some 63% expected their company would adopt 5G services in the future.

Retail appears to be neck and neck with other industries when it comes to using 5G services, keeping pace with manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, and the public sector in regard to future implementation.

The overall takeaway about 5G in retail is this: The main focus for retailers will be how in-store experiences are evolving in a post-pandemic environment, while the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds are blurring.

Consumers who have grown accustomed to online shopping, video streaming, and social media are also engaging with fulfillment centers and brick-and-mortar stores. The invisible, seamless connection between physical and digital retail enabled by wireless 5G will bring forth a number of interesting opportunities.