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Redefining retail: will 5G change the way we pay?

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5G is poised to power the next generation of internet connectivity and eCommerce. Faster and more reliable than anything that’s come before, 5G networks will enable people to communicate, consume entertainment and shop at unprecedented speeds.

The UK is one of the world’s leaders in the race to deploy 5G. The technology was first rolled out in the region by EE in May 2019, and several other providers have followed suit throughout the year.

Businesses in the e-commerce space, and indeed any retailer today, should be paying close attention to the arrival of 5G. While it wasn’t so long ago that payment options involved swiping a card and signing a piece of paper, or – heaven forbid! – handing over cash, the possibilities for closing a purchase nowadays are endless, from social media payments and digital wallets, right through to biometrics and digital currencies. In fact, the rise of new payment technologies is such that 60 percent of respondents said they believed their phones would replace their bank cards in as little as 5 years, according to FIS’ UK Consumer Behaviour & Payments Report 2019, released this month.

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5G and mobile commerce

Browsing and buying products online is quickly becoming the norm, especially for younger age groups. According to the FIS report, 36 percent of social media users had made at least one purchase through a social media platform, while nearly 50 percent of users in the Gen Z (18-21) age group had – astonishingly, 26 percent of this age group does so every day!

The high-speed connectivity of 5G will only accelerate this trend, signaling the arrival of the next big retail evolution and presenting new challenges and opportunities for brands. 5G is set to power significant growth in mobile commerce, with Vodafone estimating that it will boost London’s economy by £30 billion by 2030.

That predicted growth is in part due to simple economics of speed – faster, cheaper internet on your mobile phone means more opportunities to shop. This even applies to big-ticket items, like cars, where online purchase hasn’t been practical up until now. Complex elements like credit checks and finance options which have previously slowed the payment journey could be processed much faster using 5G.

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A new shopping experience

5G also brings other areas of innovation that could unlock additional revenue for retailers. 5G networks will enable a new level of access and ubiquity for groundbreaking retail technologies that leverage alternative reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Imagine getting the best parts of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience without ever setting foot in a store. You’re not simply scrolling through a website: you’re actually looking at the shelves of a fashion retailer or supermarket via AR through your mobile phone, as well as exploring new offerings, hunting for discounts and deals, and even using a virtual fitting room to try on outfits; from the comfort of your couch.  

This futuristic consumer experience could be closer than we think, thanks to 5G and its unprecedented capability to handle huge amounts of data at high speeds. 5G will unlock a new wave of consumer preferences – and if eCommerce businesses want to win in the UK’s fiercely competitive digital environment, they must harness the power of 5G. Then, they can truly transform the customer experience, through innovative technologies like AR and VR. 

Of course, the possibilities of 5G are not limited to the digital retail space. 5G is also set to rapidly accelerate omnichannel commerce; bringing the digital and physical worlds together in a completely new way. Brick-and-mortar stores can connect to shoppers via their mobile devices – you might walk into a shop and receive a personalised SMS communication with a special deal just for you, based on your browsing history. Or, through facial recognition tools, retailers could soon be able to track the in-store products you spend the longest time looking at, then send you a digital offer to encourage online purchase after you leave the shop.

What’s more, 5G could help allay concerns about the security of mobile payments in the minds of those consumers who are yet to make the switch to mobile shopping. Based on data from the Worldpay from FIS payments platform, 43 percent of respondents who hesitate in adopting mobile wallets do so due to a lack of trust in the technology. However, 5G presents an opportunity for more accurate fraud prevention. Because the technology allows more data to travel throughout the network, multiple checks can be performed at once, against factors like geolocation, transaction amount, and merchant ID. 5G could also help to make mobile apps more secure, as providers will be able to address vulnerabilities through real-time updates.

Payments in the 5G era

As retailers consider how to innovate in the era of 5G, it will be paramount to provide the right payment experience; one that feels fast and frictionless, to match the overall 5G shopping journey. For online merchants, this means investigating the possibilities of innovative new payment systems – think facial recognition authentication, social payments and invisible payments. But it also means simply taking the first step to understanding consumers’ preferred payment methods in any given market and catering to these.

Retailers can prepare for the future today by doing a deep investigation into what opportunities 5G can unlock for their business – whether that’s new VR and AR shopping experiences, tailored omnichannel offerings, or enabling the quick and seamless payment choices which might make all the difference.

Pete Wickes, Senior Vice President, Corporate at Worldpay from FIS