The 5G and WiFi 6 Transitions: Challenges and Opportunities for the Retail Industry

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COVID-19 forced (almost) everyone to rethink how to conduct business, with some industries able to pivot easily to a work from home reality, quickly making the required technology adjustments for this to happen.

Other industries that rely on face-to-face customer interactions, including those in the retail industry, developed and increasingly came to rely on technology-based solutions that allowed for touchless customer interaction. 

Examples of technology currently supporting the retail industry include:

  • Connecting devices to data to understand how to enhance customer experience, reduce costs, drive growth, and improve overall performance.
  • Monitoring goods throughout the entire supply chain to collect customer feedback immediately after the shopping experience, providing real-time shopper satisfaction insights; to track lost shopping carts and baskets. 
  • Creating and maintaining inventory management systems for deployment to all retail locations.
  • On-demand delivery technology and integrated point of sale (POS) systems to help enterprises enhance the customer experience by identifying customer preferences, tracking information for loyalty programs, and driving sales.

Certainly, COVID-19 has affected in-store foot traffic and customer engagement in significant ways. Yet the transition to 5G or WiFi 6 has the potential to disrupt retail in positive ways, allowing for the implementation of customer personalization and dynamic engagement strategies. Along with such customer-facing innovation, the 5G/WiFi 6 transition also holds promise to improve operations, including inventory management and store functions. 

The pandemic-prompted innovations in the industry include mobile phone orders, self pickup, backroom innovations, and last-mile delivery systems. Such innovations will rely on the 5G or WiFi 6 network that holds much promise for the retail industry However, there are implementation challenges within stores that must be acknowledged and planned for. 

[Read more: Inside Burton’s Digital Transformation and Redefined Retail Experience]

The transition to a 5G or a WiFi 6 network requires significant planning, both in terms of budgets and time: it will require an assessment of how technology will be affected during a transition and what upgrades will be needed to take advantage of the upgraded speed and capacity a new network will offer.  

What can a busy retail establishment do to begin?

Onboarding a new network is not a simple “device-swap,” it is a major project, with potentially severe implications if not properly executed. A comprehensive project plan will entail multiple steps, with the highest priorities on deciding:

  • Who should be on the decision-making team? Should the project be handled in-house, through a third-party partner, or with a combination of both?
  • What will the project’s budget be?
  • When must the project begin to ensure no disruption in business systems?
  • Once a budget and timeline have been established, who will remove old devices and install new ones – in-house or a third-party provider? And how will this transition be implemented so that it does not interrupt business?

Perhaps the most significant first decision to be made is the who of the transition: who will be involved in assessing what upgrades and purchases are needed? And who will install the new or upgrade existing technology so that business operations are not interrupted? A third-party provider can serve as both a guide and a partner to a business seeking ways to embrace the power of a 5G or a WiFi 6 network. 

— Jamie Volk is vice president for strategic development for Velociti Inc., a global provider of enterprise technology solutions for more than 25 years, offering the retail industry design, deployment, and maintenance solutions that optimize technology investments, improving business performance and customer experience. 

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