A new study published by Incisiv and funded by Verizon found that retailers are struggling to find ways to ease in-store network congestion and support booming mobile device use among both customers and employees.
Incisiv's 2022 Connected Retail Experience Study found that only 22% of grocery and general merchandise retailers are satisfied with the digital connectivity available to customers and employees in their brick and mortar locations. This number rose as high as 55% for specialty and department stores, but that still left almost half struggling with issues surrounding the availability and reliability of in-store connections.
The survey discovered that the situation is likely to become even more pressing over the next 12-24 months, with 93% of retailers expecting increases in overall (customer and employee) mobile device usage within their stores by the beginning of 2025, while 83% specifically plan to grow their own use of networked in-store technology, like IoT (Internet of Things) devices.
Retailers' growing networking demands are expected to be driven, in large part, by in-store processes like inventory management. Respondents told Incisiv that the percentage of associated, automated tasks that rely on connected technology will triple by 2025, from 19%, currently, to 62% in less than three years.
The multi-pronged increase in demand doesn't bode well for in-store networks if the expansions aren't made to capacity.
Only 20% of grocery and general merchandise retail managers, and 32% of their specialty and department store counterparts, are currently satisfied with the existing connectivity and networking options for customers and sales associates during peak usage times. This means the vast majority of both retail categories are already feeling friction brought on by current network constraints, without future growth being taken into account.
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Among all of the aforementioned factors, the Verizon-sponsored study found that an expected increase in demand driven by growing numbers of customer-owned devices was the number one driver of expected 5G adoption across surveyed retailers. This was followed by a similar expectation of growing connected device use by store staff for tasks such as real-time inventory tracking.
5G is also expected to play a major role in enabling Wi-fi deployments for additional in-store tasks that require associates to stay connected at all times.
Whether 5G or terrestrial broadband serves as the ultimate source of connectivity, the survey makes it clear that the retail space's need for increased network capacity may even exceed the ongoing global explosion being seen across most carrier networks.