Why Data is the New Retail Currency

Retail is all about numbers – from footfall and finance to pricing and profit, it’s an industry that thrives on data. It’s part of a global preoccupation that is seeing the creation, sharing, analysis and storage of data growing at a huge rate. The scale is hard to comprehend, but market intelligence firm, IDC, estimates that amount of data in existence globally will grow from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 zettabytes by 2025 – a zettabyte being one billion terabytes, and just one terabyte of storage is enough for to hold in the region of 130,000 digital photos.

Where is all the retail data coming from?

Retail is increasingly technology driven, and a huge range of innovative applications and processes are enabling retailers to create, gather and use more data. Whether it’s about how their businesses are operating, or how they are attracting and interacting with customers – from the sales floor to the back office – high street retail is looking to tech to attract and retain customers.

Looking at just a few examples helps to illustrate the pace of tech change. The appearance of more digital signage, for example, is helping shop owners to more effectively communicate with customers. Others are installing beacons in-store that ‘recognise’ when a customer has walked through the door, before initiating a more personalised process that can involve communication with the sales team or via mobile apps. Amazon has invested heavily in opening more checkout-free stores – where you pick your products and the technology scans your trolley as you leave before immediately collecting payment – while quick service leader McDonalds has implimented a vast rollout of self-service kiosks to speed up service.

Increasing investment in retail apps is also building momentum in the retail digital economy. Global brands like Starbucks, for example, have adapted to changing consumer habits by opening stores that you can only use via mobile app. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as digital, and increasingly, high street retail, sees its data as a valuable currency in building competitive advantage and customer loyalty.

How are retailers going to get the data connectivity they need?

The common denominator for all of this data growth and digital innovation is the need to be connected. Traditionally, retailers have largely relied on wired connectivity, but the limitations of these connections are becoming increasingly apparent for retailers who need to be agile, always connected and quick to capitalise on new opportunities.

In particular, they are turning to wireless WAN connections as a primary means of accessing all the data-intensive services they need. The arrival of 5G has shifted the balance significantly, with retailers also using existing, high performance 4G LTE mobile data networks as 5G gradually comes online. But, by offering wireless connectivity up to 100 times faster than anything that has come before, 5G will enable the whole High Street retail sector to adopt new technologies to claw back market share from their online rivals.

And that begs an interesting question – how far has the 5G rollout reached so far? In the UK, EE, Vodafone, 3, BT, O2 and VOXI have rolled out 5G services, and it is currently available in 22 towns and cities on at least one of those networks. On a wider scale, Ericsson’s Mobility Report predicts that global 5G coverage is expected to reach between 55% and 65% by the end of 2025.

Alongside this growing, high performance network is greater competition and lower pricing. Some carriers are trialling flat-rate business data plans that work like a fixed line subscription. In these situations, the customer selects a bandwidth plan and receives a flat rate bill every month. Taken together, these developments make a compelling case for the adoption of wireless WAN as primary connectivity across an industry whose reliance on data is only set to grow in the years ahead.