First generation (1G) networking brought mobility to phone calls; 2G enabled short text messaging; 3G provided essential networking speeds for smartphones, and 4G gave rise to deep web functionality and the launch of mobile commerce. Now, the world is on the cusp of a new wireless era with the onset of fifth generation (5G) connectivity. But what effect will this have on global consumer habits and business operations?
At The Future of Luxury: E-commerce in Asia conference Kiki Fan, of technology firm Tencent Holdings, explained recently that 5G will be roughly ten times faster than 4G, with a reaction rate of just a single millisecond. Currently, 4G’s reaction rate is at 200 milliseconds. “In the near future, 5G will give brands the capability to communicate high-quality information instantaneously, and eliminate lag time, ultimately improving the consumer experience,” Fan said.
Considering digital commerce is already on an upward trajectory, the technology will be pivotal for online retailers, who often rely on speed, efficiency, and ease of purchase. Back in 2017, Yoox Net-a-Porter Group (YNAP) reported that its biggest online sales revenue came from shoppers using their phones, with mobile customers spending significantly more per year, and buying more frequently, compared to its desktop customers. Smartphones are now the go-to device for online shopping instead of desktop computers and this shift to m-commerce or mobile-commerce is already positively impacting luxury online retailers.
“5G will communicate high-quality information instantaneously and eliminate lag time, ultimately improving the consumer experience”
According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers' (PwC) 2019 Global Consumer Insights Survey, a third of consumers online shop at least once a week. “By enhancing the customer experience at the layer that allows interactions with consumers — the web store, the mobile interface — YNAP finds that customers spend more time and money shopping with them,” reveals Enrico Cavatorta, YNAP’s chief financial officer until January 2019, in PwC’s report.
Thanks to this ability to erase the physical and emotional barriers that can discourage consumer engagement and spending, mobile commerce has had considerable opportunity to grow. “In a way, mobile is actually helping consumers enjoy deeper relationships with their favourite retailers and brands,” says David Clarke, PwC’s global chief experience officer. “It makes for fewer frustrating, high-friction interactions for customers.” In fact, with 4G’s current capabilities, speed and ease of purchase are still the biggest pain points for online retailers. Thus, 5G’s biggest opportunity for the retail sector will be to provide consumers with a seamless and frictionless shopping experience, which can translate into hard sales.
Some companies have also started experimenting in experiential areas too - most notably in the UK. Mobile network Three revealed a 5G-powered mixed-reality catwalk for London Fashion Week in February, and rival EE unveiled a 5G virtual stylist at the recent Bafta Awards. Thus, in addition to m-commerce, experts predict 5G will benefit augmented reality and virtual reality too, yet widespread implementation of the tech is still two to three years in the making, rendering its full potential unclear.
But, with the capability to virtually eliminate latency and provide a new standard of speed, 5G is likely to disrupt the fashion industry's current modus operandi in more ways than one.