E4: The Reinvention of Retail

Jake Moskowitz and his guests explore new 5G opportunities for retailers.

In the fourth episode of FIVE, Jake and his guests take a close look at retail – both physical and digital. The conversation covers a lot of ground, from the current state of brick and mortar stores to the revitalization possibilities that 5G can enable – from digital shortcomings to emerging digital trends that will become more essential for retailers in a 5G world.

Throughout the episode, Jake and his guests delve into the gamut and nuances of retail challenges and 5G opportunities. Yory Wurmser of eMarketer discusses beacon interference and the “over-storing” of America. Michael Stich of VML Y&R goes deep on consumer expectations, supply chain transparency and localization strategies. Nikki Baird of Aptos Retail explores augmented reality, digital “wish-lists” in the physical world and common eCommerce issues 5G won’t fix. Peter Linder of Ericsson looks at “use places” beyond retail stores, encouraging physical businesses of all types to proactively consider 5G applications for their unique environments.

The FIVE List

Throughout the episode, the discussions delve into the gamut and nuances of retail challenges and 5G opportunities. Jake wraps it all up in the FIVE List:

5G presents a wide range of new possibilities for retailers, including these five advancements in:

  1. Personalized Marketing
    The explosion of devices will mean an expansion of available marketing data – Data that will enable better targeting, new segments of all kinds and personalized point of sale messages.
  2. Interactive store experiences
    In-store augmented reality solutions and other engaging experiences can provide unique new reasons for customers to gather in retail locations – big ideas that can be transformational, made viable with 5G.
  3. The definition of retail
    The advent of 5G presents an opportunity for retailers to think in terms of a bigger value proposition – with 5G-enabled services, transparency, entertainment, localization, entertainment and improved consumer relationships.
  4. Store traffic, inventory and supply chain management:
    From product factory to store shelf to customer closet, in the 5G future, real-time sensors will be much better suited for tracking inventory, supply chain efficiency and customer interest.
  5. Immersive digital experiences
    In the 5G world, apps and devices will extend engaging solutions to the customer’s home like never before and help synchronize digital and physical retail experiences. 

Guests

  • Nikki Baird, VP of Retail Innovation, Aptos Retail
  • Peter Linder, VP of 5G Marketing at Ericsson
  • Michael Stich, Chief Business Officer at VML Y&R 
  • Yory Wurmser, Principal / Mobile Analyst at eMarketer

FIVE, The 5G Podcast for Marketers, is presented by the Emodo Institute and Ericsson Emodo.

Host
Jake Moskowitz, Head of the Emodo Institute at Ericsson Emodo

Producers
Robert Haskitt
Adam Kapel
Jake Moskowitz

Original Episode Art
Jeff Boese

Music
Dyaphonic
Small Town Symphonette


Transcript of Episode 4: The Reinvention of Retail

“As far as customer experience and impact on shopping behavior, there’s definitely opportunity to be much richer on the kinds of experiences being delivered than we have today.”

Jake: 

Let’s talk 5G.

Welcome to Five, the podcast that breaks down 5G for marketers. This is Episode 4: The Reinvention of Retail. I’m Jake Moskowitz.

In the last episode of Five, we looked at emerging 5G enabled opportunities for marketers, brands and retailers to engage with consumers in the connected home and out on the go. 5G is expected to fuel an explosion of new sensors and IOT devices because of its speed, super-low latency and high capacity. How might that shift – and others – help provide new opportunities for an industry in turmoil? I’m talking about the retail environment.

Across America, retail is an industry in crisis. It’s no secret. It’s been that way for several years. E-commerce is becoming the norm. Amazon is the e-commerce king, and brick-and-mortar giants continue to shutter stores in astounding numbers. Consumers know they can shop online and have whatever they want sent right to their door. So why go to the store? If you’re a store owner, that’s the question you need to answer: why go to the store?

The advent of 5G may actually provide you with some invigorating answers. Those answers lie in some technical aspects of 5G. Just so we’re all starting in the same aisle, let’s take a moment to talk about what we’re talking about.

5G uses the high-frequency spectrum, or millimeter wave, more widely distributed cloud infrastructure, and a network of new, compact antennas to transmit data at exceptional speeds. The combination of these and other 5G attributes are what make 5G uploads and downloads so much faster, and devices much more responsive than previous cellular generations. 

5G was designed to enable huge numbers of sensors and devices to work simultaneously on the same network. It’s these capabilities that enable both in-store opportunities and new options for digital engagement.

5G has its critics, no doubt. You don’t even have to be a critic to be skeptical. For example, millimeter wave has been derided for its inability to penetrate walls or elevator doors, which is true. That sounds like a real problem, an issue that makes it hard to imagine shoppers having seamless connected experiences in a store.

Here’s another problem: retail is complex. Retail marketers know that there is no single remedy. A new generation of cellular is going to fix the retail sector? Really?

Not everybody believes that 5G holds that kind of promise. Honestly, I’m right there with them. 5G alone isn’t going to solve retail issues, but what it may do is enable a number of new possibilities, the type of possibilities that can help you think differently about what a store can be. Think personal, interactive, efficient. The deal with 5G’s millimeter wave is that it works differently than any mobile generation that’s come before. Data transmission can be exceptionally fast.

Indoor 5G networks will require indoor antennas, and that’s how the signal avoids interference. That close proximity to users is key. If you’re picturing some of these big 3G and 4G antennas, the kind of fake trees you’ve seen at the side of the road or big ugly things at the top of buildings jammed into your local mall, here’s a different image for you. Picture something tiny, like the size of a smoke alarm, so small and simple it just blends into the retail environment.

Also, the 5G spec doesn’t just use millimeter wave, it also includes mid- and low-frequency spectrums as well. The low band transmits information slower, but the signal travels a long distance in, out and through buildings.

Let’s take a step back. Just since 2017 we’ve seen an unprecedented run of big retailers clearing out. Thousands of stores from once prominent brands, like The Limited, Radio Shack, Gymboree, Payless Shoes, Macy’s, JCPenney, Gap, Banana Republic, Abercrombie and Fitch, and of course, Toys R Us. Last year over 100 Sears and KMart stores closed down, and Sears announced another 80 closures this year.

According to Stores Magazine’s annual list of top 100 retailers, over the last 10 years, Amazon has steadily climbed to be AMerica’s number three retailer, but eight other retail giants have retained their positions at the very top of the list: Walmart, Kroger, Target, Costco, The Home Depot, Walgreens, CVS and Lowes. They’ve held steady in those positions since 2008. What’s the secret to that kind of strength and longevity in such a tricky time for the retail sector?

They all have one thing in common: reinvention. Every one of them has continually taken bold steps to invest and innovate in the areas of e-commerce, in-store experience and supply chain efficiency. They also develop strategies that intertwine online and offline experiences in compelling, seamless ways for customers. Not every retailer has the resources to enact that kind of change. If you’re not one of the big guys, it can be tough to stay competitive.

Most physical retail companies have implemented e-commerce programs, but from a consumer perspective, the brick-and-mortar shopping experience hasn’t changed a whole lot, and the two platforms may feel completely disconnected. Aside from some self-checkout kiosks and video screens, most malls and stores in the U.S. still look and operate pretty much the same way they did 10 years ago, even 20 years ago. That’s where 5G comes in.

Yory Wurmser is a principal analyst at E-Marketer. You may remember him from earlier episodes. His extensive research for marketers has covered retail and mobile, including 5G.

Yory:

Retail in the U.S. differs from the rest of the world in that the U.S. is way over-stored and over-retailed. It always has been. The U.S. has always been a very consumer-driven model with a ton more retail stores out there. I think as Amazon has taken off and more e-commerce has taken off, retailers are realizing that they have too many stores.

That said, physical stores are still going to be important, and they will, without doubt, have to transform to find their place within a world where Amazon is out there, where Walmart is investing billions and billions of dollars in its e-commerce platform, Target as well. The whole retail ecosystem has to change.

5G, I think, is going to help in that because part of what the physical retail experience has to do, it has to become more connected to the online experience and it also has to become more interactive. So for the online experience, mobile apps for your best users can become really interactive with the store experience. You can use it for augmented reality within the store based on your phone. I think 5G can be great for that. You can have richer experiences within retail apps. You can promote retail where people can actually size themselves by scanning what they are wearing and get accurate sizing, which will make e-commerce a lot more possible and will also make returns less common. And finally, within the retail store, you can make the actual store more interactive by having smart mirrors, augmented reality experiences within the store that rely on really high throughput.

And one final thing that retail stores have capacity constraints on their internal networks, and I think 5G will go a long way to solving that. What that does is it lets in-store users have a richer experience, but it also lets retailers have a lot more data about what is happening in the stores to have all that bandwidth available.

So I think in all those ways, 5G is going to be pretty important for retailers.

Jake:

It feels to me that in 5G, retailers have to play a much more active role, A) because of the general market and the importance of them shifting to become much more intertwined between digital and physical, but B) because they may need to play a role in building out indoor networks. The importance of indoor networks may be much more important with 5G than with 4G, and so retailers may control their own destiny to a greater extent than they did in 4g. And then lastly, because retailers can actually be involved in the creation of those immersive consumer experiences that drive consumers to actually want to be involved with 5G.

Yory:

I think you are right on all points. Just a bright side: it also reduces interference issues between signals, so you have a lot more control over the type of signals that are happening in your store than you do in the current network. One of the problems with the uptake of beacons is you are getting a lot of interference between stores and you’d set up these systems, but they would cancel each other out because of the interference coming from other stores. I think you get less of that interference with 5G than you would with some other systems, which could reduce that impact.

Jake:

I’m going to pause here for just a second. You may remember that beacons are those small, wireless transmitters in retail stores that use bluetooth technology to track visitors by communicating with their mobile phones. It’s a good way for retailers to measure how well their marketing efforts are driving people into the store and know where people are within the store. The problem with beacons is that they are small, proprietary networks without interoperability and they require consumers’ phones to have bluetooth turned on at all times. Where beacons seemed like a key retail technology of the future five years ago, the buzz has died off dramatically. Those little 5G antennas I mentioned can execute on what beacons were always meant to be, and do so far more efficiently, and at the same time, enable all kinds of new, in-store capabilities.

Nikki:

My name is Nikki Baird. I am the Vice President of Retail Innovation for Aptose. Aptose is an enterprise software company that focuses in the retail space and I am charged with helping retailers to accelerate their ability to innovate.

Jake:

Do you see 5G in general as an opportunity for physical retailers? A threat? Or a combination of both? And if it is a combination of both, how do you see the blend? What’s the mix?

Nikki:

I saw it much more as an opportunity. When you think about the store and how it has, to some degree, suffered compared to the digital experience, the amount of information that is available online is so much greater than you can get from the price tag, or even the content that’s on a box. Retailers are investing a lot in IOT. Beacons have had their day and kind of come and gone. I think interactivity between objects, whether that is a device a consumer is bringing with them, or products in the store, or sensors in the store of some kind, all of those things, I think, are on the table. As far as customer experience and impact on shopping behavior, there’s definitely an opportunity to be much richer in the kinds of experiences that are delivered than we have today.

Beacons were really sold as kind of a package solution. It was, “Here’s how you communicate with consumers and here’s where you type in the promotion that you want to deliver.” It was both a software and a hardware component for beacons.

When you look at 5G, and that’s really the infrastructure component, it’s going to incumbent on software providers to come up with the place that says, “Okay, here’s where you type in your promotion, and here’s how I deliver it.” You need companies that can consume that very detailed information and turn it into either insights or recommendations that retailers can take based off that new level of information. And I don’t doubt that people will do that work, but I think the gap and that lag between the software capability that takes advantage of the data that comes out of 5G – vs. beacons that were kind of pitched as that all in one – it will give time for retailers to get over the knee-jerk reaction of, “How do I promote using this?” and hopefully getting them to think more creatively and beyond just promotions for ways to take advantage of the technology.

Jake:

In the last couple of episodes, we talked about 5G enabled opportunities for brands and retailers to connect with consumers in their homes, and how 5G makes augmented reality much more of a reality outside the home.

Nikki: 

The biggest opportunity is probably around augmented reality. It’s at its infancy. Augmented reality is the entree for taking all that rich digital content and putting it in a physical context where it’s right at consumer’s fingertips to be able to access that information.

The term augmented kind of says it all. It’s taking an existing object or physical context and it’s augmenting it, so it’s overlaying digital on top of it. I feel like virtual reality actually has far more opportunity in the purely digital space. That’s where you can take a two-dimensional website and really bring it to life. Instead of scrolling through a page, you have the opportunity to move around a room of objects and interact with those objects. I think that will help retailers in a digital context. But back to the physically, augmented reality has a basis in the physical world. It is augmenting the physical world in some way. You can’t ask for a better place for that to happen than in a physical store.

Jake:

When you compare today vs. 20 years ago, people buy a higher percentage of their goods and services digitally rather than physically, and yet I don’t feel that people don’t go out as much. People still leave their home, even if it’s not shopping and fulfilling errands that you have and things that you have to get for your home. What are people looking for?

Nikki:

I think that’s a great way to think about it. I think about it in terms of the convenience part of shopping has been completely commoditized. That has moved almost entirely to the digital space. When it’s not a high-consideration item, which could be just its importance to you or the dollar value associated with that item, those tend to be the two things that drive how much time consumers are willing to invest in choosing the product. Outside of high-consideration items, you already know and love your brands and you already know what you want and when you want it, you kind of want to take that completely off the table and out of your brain. Digital is primed for that. For everything else, though, there’s an enormous amount of opportunity.

Understanding the tricks that do inspire consumers to leave their homes. When you look at Gen Z, now, the teens that are the next generation of shoppers, in some ways, they are very old-school in the way that they want to engage with each other. They want that in-person experience as much as they like and spend time in digital channels. If you can position your store in such a way that it gives people a landing space that it gives people more of those community experiences, that’s much more the future of the physical retail store.

Jake:

Michael Stick is the chief business officer at VNL-YNR, an end-to-end global brand experience agency. You might remember him from earlier episodes.

So Michael, do retailers have to think about themselves in a new way? The way I think about it is, will there be at some point a very thin line between retail and entertainment, for example?

Michael:

Forget about 5G for a second. What your expectations are for both the retail experience – for that matter anywhere you would go to buy something – is rising because of the enhanced amount of information and because of the experiences you can already choose on your phone.

And your point around entertainment is absolutely right. Retail is a part of the whole of what the broader value proposition looks like – that includes pickup at the store, that includes in-store experiences, that includes ship to home – those are all part of a broader whole that, if you do buy from that company, you have network effects that come from being a part of that customer.

Let’s talk about 5G for a second. What does that mean for 5G? Knowing that our expectations are increasing, both in terms of what we buy, where we buy it, what that experience looks like, and knowing that are expectations are that “you should know me by now, and you should be moving perfecting your communications with me to make them more relevant and personalized, but also to make that purchase experience both more exciting and for the things I’m just going to go buy more automated.” I think you’re really going to see a nice bifurcation between really meaningful, communal, exciting purchase experiences, as well as the rise of automation of stuff that I don’t even want to consider, I don’t even want to think about. I know I’m going to buy my shampoo. Just ship it to my house and you should know when I want it next.

I think both of those are really exciting futures of retail around new experiences along with new automation services.

“But as far as customer experience and impact on shopping behavior, there’s definitely opportunity to be much richer on the kinds of experiences being delivered than we have today.”

Jake:
Does 5G become a new battleground for retailers to shift and become something new. Will the ones who jump the first to build indoor 5G networks, build immersive consumer experiences that are low latency and a whole new way to experience product within a physical location? Is 5G a new battleground?

Michael:

I think one of the real defenses that traditional, physical retailers have against e-commerce players is the fact that they have both a local presence and just as significantly, local sensibility. One of the nice things that 5G brings is the ability to provide personalization at the local level because of its improvement in performance and latency.

Back to how marketing changes. We’re all starting to dip our toe into personalization right now. Personalized at the point of local relevency starts to become a real opportunity and professional advantage for physical retailers. That’s always been true. It’s true today, even without 5G. It really starts to help marketers really think about local preferences, local tastes, local trends, and use that as a way to really be a local goods provider and services provider to anyone at the point of sale. And you combine that with the fact that being in the physical world, you can bring people physically together to celebrate, discover, enjoy those local tastes. That’s a bit different than what we know e-commerce is doing today.

I could argue that that blend of human experiences is something that we’re all, in general, hungering more for as we all get addicted to our screens. The ability to create something of a local experience with that geographic context and personalized experience as a standard is a really interesting opportunity.

The young, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, are looking for purpose-led brands and are looking to buy products from companies that not only do no harm in the world, but actually stand for good in the world. Not only their companies, but also their suppliers and their partners. Everyone’s got to be above board for what they do, and they are asking for greater transparency in those ways.

You combine that with technology and how supply chains and technology chains are getting overhauled, you start to see transparency in the supply chain from the baseline of the earliest source of the product all the way through final delivery to the end user, step-by-step through the process of the chain. Things are getting reported up, not only through sensors, but also through devices like cameras and things like reporting software. The future of supply chain is really going to be around transparency and ensuring that there is accountability within that supply chain as well. It’s going to be very interesting to watch.

Nikki:

A lot of the limitations that retailers have today is because they don’t have good visibility into their inventory. I’m not talking about it in the supply chain, per se, I’m talking about it in stores, item level. The opportunity comes from digitizing as much of your physical estate as you possibly can. I think in general, there’s a philosophy that we need to understand what happens in a store to the same degree that we understand what happens online. In the digital world, there’s this wishlist construct that is supposed to try to give you a place to put things that you aren’t really ready to buy, that you’re thinking about, and kind of separate that from the intent that’s involved with putting something in your cart directly.

I know more than one retailer that is looking at how to do that from a fitting room perspective. “How do I keep track of all the things that a consumer brought into a fitting room, tried on, what they sent out of the fitting room, vs. what they actually bought, and can I keep track and publish that to them as a wishlist that they could potentially access later. And also knowing that I have insight into that information so that I can use that for either personalizing their fit recommendations, or aggregating that and having a better understanding of what goes into my product design or product selections and so I am making good fit decisions from an apparel perspective.”

I think one of the places where I can imagine a very interesting future because of 5G is in this sensor-based stuff and being able to really know exactly what’s in your store, what’s happening to those items in your store. The insights retailers can get from that, they can run off of for years.

Jake:

Retailers have come a long way with their e-commerce platforms. Companies like Target and Nordstrom have exceptional shopping experiences online and expertly use data, apps, social media, and retargeting strategies in their digital marketing. But even for those who’ve master today’s e-commerce techniques, 5G may open up some new frontiers.

Nikki:

You know, obviously once you experience 5G, it’s breathtaking. How much faster everything is, how much better the experience is, and I don’t think people who haven’t experienced it can really wrap their heads around how different it is. But I actually think the barriers to more digital shopping from consumers is more on the user experience in mobile. There’s only so much real estate, and retailers have not figured out how to maximize its potential and what to present to consumers. I think those are actually bigger barriers than download speeds of page load speeds, or responsiveness or any of that kind of thing.

More than 50 percent of the traffic that comes to a retailers.com property comes from mobile as the format as opposed to the full desktop experience. But the conversion rate for mobile is, for some retailers, as much as half of the conversion rate that they get online. Online is about a tenth of the conversion rate that retailers get in stores. The conversion rate in stores is the bar for convincing a consumer to buy something. It’s in the 30-40 percentile range and it’s like 3-5 percent on a desktop experience, and it’s maybe 1-2 percent on a mobile experience. The issue can sometimes be page loads and retailers often pile a bunch of stuff on their websites that bring that performance down and that is something that 5G would definitely help address. But more so, it’s the shopping experience and being able to search and find products, find what you’re looking for, understand all the elements of what you want to know about a product in order to feel confident buying it, all of those things are the things that are getting in the way more so than page performance, for example.

Jake:

Hey Michael, another important factor in this shift is voice because when I search for something by voice as opposed to when I text into a browser, the importance of something being the first listing grows tremendously and the stickiness of products may go higher. Maybe the model of retail changes to the point that you’re willing to spend more to get somebody locked in to your product because of how sticky they are once they are on that product.

Michael:

I think in general, search rankings are growing more important, whether they be voice search rankings, retail site search rankings, Google, or other places that have search within them. We are less inclined, because we spend less time on everything, to go beyond the first page of search rankings, and more often than not to your point, the sponsored search rankings. Which implies – and we’re seeing this – increased competition for paying for the top keywords or utterances, as well as more emphasis on that as being a focus not only from a paid and ROAS perspective, but also from an organic and content optimization perspective.

As it relates to voice, I think specifically, it is more of a repurchase technology than a purchase technology. It really is very category specific around what we’re willing to purchase, even if it is recommended or suggested by the voice provider. More often than not, though, a first time purchase we’re going to want to see it. We’re going to take a look at ratings and reviews, even watch a video on it. That’s why we have things like the Amazon Echo show and other devices that are coming out. People want to see in addition to voice interact. It’s a very convenient technology, and it can be, on its best day, a way to automate a repurchase experience.

In this way, with this level of frequency. Where I’m going is that frequency management is a big deal, for both brands and retailers. We don’t even think about that today, but I can’t wait for us to get into understanding the natural repurchase frequencies of our customers by segment and starting to manage full marketing programs around those segments. I think that’s really exciting, and that’s all enabled by some of the automation that 5G enables as well.

Jake:

So how can 5G, a new generation of cellular infrastructure, help store owners turn the tide? Well, let me count the ways. One…I heard five.

    1. Personalized experiences: In a 5G world, there will be an explosion of devices and sensors serving a wide variety of purposes and gathering vast amounts of data. The expansion of data will enable better targeting and new segments of all kinds.
    2. Interactive store experiences: There’s been a lot of talk about the ability to try on clothes virtually with in-store augmented reality solutions. That idea can be transformational, blending entertainment with retail.
    3. Immersive home experiences: Apps and devices can extend those types of ideas to the home and help extend consumer relationships with brands into the home. It could be a focus on smart speaker search results, or no-latency extended reality experiences in the home.

 

  • A different way of thinking about the retail environment: 5G enables you to step out of the old box, stop thinking like a traditional retailer. What else can 5G do that can define your retail brand and make your store a consumer destination?
  • Rethink the supply chain: Be nimble, be transparent, from product factory to customer closet. Use real-time sensors to track clothing products that are tried on and subsequently not purchases. Allow online customers to see when out of stock inventory will be replenished, or see when a backordered item is being assembled and shipped.

 

Before we go, we talked a lot about how tomorrows beacons, sensors and in-store experiences will be enabled by indoor 5G networks. Other types of location businesses can benefit in new ways from the same technologies.

Peter:

I think that you can reach very far in your thinking if you instead talk about use cases that everybody’s been talking about, and start thinking about use places.

Jake:

That’s Peter Linder, Ericsson’s head of marketing for 5G in North America.

Peter:

When you look at 5G, it’s a lot more variety in different things. All of a sudden you say, “Hey, here’s a really proactive hotel chain.” In the world of the future, we might see that it’s the tool that transforms the store experiences. Or, is this the thing that changes the experience at the stadium? You can go use place by use place and start looking at, “what do we need at our place?” Then take an active role in actually making sure the network comes to you.

Jake:

Coming next on Five: We’re going to explore 5G’s potential impact on data and privacy, and we’ll dedicate an entire episode to each. First, we’ll discuss the shifting shape, sources and distribution of consumer data in a 5G world. Our privacy episode will be a little different in format. We’re going to go deep into privacy initiatives, advantages and concerns with a VP of data protection and privacy.

Thanks for joining us.

The Five podcast is presented by Ericsson Emodo and the Emodo Institute and features original music by Diaphonic and the Small Town Symphonette. This episode was produced by Robert Haskitt, Adam Kapel, and me. I’m Jake Moskowitz.