3 Key 5G-Enabled Retail Takeaways From This Year’s Mobile World Congress

Customer experience, apps and advertising are about to be disrupted

a hand drops various household objects into a smartphone; the objects include a video game controller; a camera; a wallet; a remote
There was much to see at this year's Mobile World Congress.
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There was no shortage of unusual things to talk about during last week’s 32nd annual Mobile World Congress, which took place in Barcelona and attracted more than 10,000 attendees.

Nokia announced a phone with five cameras. LG’s new phone unlocks when users allow it to scan their veins. And on the last day of the event, one attendee requested that a chip be inserted in his hand so he could more easily use all the features in his automated home.

The most relevant megatrend for brand marketers centered on the emergence of 5G networks, which have been buzzy for years but are closing in on reality. AT&T is expected to roll out 5G in a dozen American cities, and by 2025, 5G will account for 50 percent of U.S. connections, a number that rises as high as 59 percent for South Korea for the same timeframe.

Are you up to speed on 5G? If not, here are three key things we learned from this year’s MWC that can help you catch up on the next revolution for retailers and all marketers.

CX is about to be transformed

This increased connectivity will also impact the way brands communicate with consumers.

Walking into a department store will never be the same. Seventy-one percent of store shoppers already turn to their phone to navigate aisles, read product reviews, compare prices and checkout with a cashier-less payment. 5G creates a level of connectivity that will enable people to do so much more, including purchase from virtual and augmented reality kiosks and dressing rooms like Alibaba has already accomplished in China. In the coming decade, you will not only be able to complete in-store purchases via AR mirrors, thanks to 5G, but you will be able to direct that they are delivered to you anywhere at any time. In such cases, consumers will want regular digital updates from the retailer about where their package is in the delivery scheme.

The benefits of 5G will also be experienced by store customers and clerks simultaneously. For instance, facial recognition technology has already started to appear in stores. In the years to come, IoT systems will take that facial recognition to VIP patrons when they walk through the door and alert staffers to his or her presence so they can provide the bespoke experience the client expects.

Foldable phones will disrupt mobile retail

MWC 2019 will be remembered not only for super-powered communications networks but also the debut of foldable, 5G-powered phones such as Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and Huawei Mate X. As just one example, these bendable, phone- or tablet-sized devices let users employ separate screens to watch two things at once or view a single screen.

It is going to be fascinating to see the experiences retail apps will offer on them because of their size and picture quality. For instance, the unfolded version of the Huawei Mate X equals an 8-inch screen with 2,480 by 2,200-pixel resolution. Augmented reality-minded retailers like Sephora should be thrilled. The cosmetics brand’s smartphone app lets you try on makeup at home or on the go. Imagine how much more tempting this feature will be for customers with a folded phone that can easily be expanded to get a high-res look at what lipsticks and eyeshadows look good on them. And for apparel, imagine comparing one outfit on one side of the arched screen to another or scrolling through accessory options on the other side of the device.

All told, these foldable phones cost $2,000 or more and are predicted by industry observers to start taking serious market share from regular smartphones and tablets by 2021. They represent an exciting turn for mobile retail.

Power long-form advertising

The 5G revolution will require more cell towers near shopping districts and malls, and this development will also mean location data will become more accurate. Because of such preciseness, mobile advertising and messages from retailers’ smartphone apps to opted-in consumers will be better timed compared to past efforts. Conversion rates for big mobile advertisers like HotelTonight and Taco Bell should improve noticeably.

Long-form advertising will also suddenly be in play for brands like ABC, BMW and Nordstrom, which all have considerable SMS/MMS lists. Such brands will first need to survey customers to find out who has a 5G-enabled phone because you wouldn’t want to send a 30-minute video via MMS to someone with just 4G. When 5G emerges, marketers can find out if mobile consumers are willing to watch long-form videos. A 30-minute video will take seconds to download rather than a chunk of the consumer’s day.

Get ready for the 2020s

After MWC 2019, we’ve learned that all of brand marketing is about to be disrupted again. For retailers in particular the advent of 5G means that the customer experience is going to evolve with options like ecommerce-enabled dressing rooms, multiscreen mobile experiences and precise location-based targeting for everything from advertising to deliveries. And this increased connectivity will also impact the way brands communicate with consumers in a major way when considering all the messaging touchpoints coming, such as receiving notifications via 5G-powered refrigerators.

It’s an intriguing time, indeed. The best way to keep pace is to think mobile first and to consider how digital and brick-and-mortar experiences are meshing. Next decade, customers will expect your brand to be hyper-modern and to be there for them every step of the way.

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