Reprinted with permission of the publisher. Wireless Week, Advantage Business Media, September, 18, 2017.

By Tom Erskine, CMO, One Door

5G, and even the latest versions of 4G like Gigabit LTE, have the potential to once again change the way consumers utilize wireless networks. The speeds associated with these networks harness the amazing potential to deliver new services, including connected virtual and augmented reality applications. But when it is time for consumers to adopt these services, they’re going to want to try, experience, and buy them in retail stores.

But retail? Now that’s a word you don’t hear often from operators.

While today’s wireless networks are thousands of times faster than they were 20 years ago, today’s wireless stores look about the same. Deciding between the latest Apple, Samsung or Huawei phone is just like deciding between a Motorola and Nokia in 1997.

If operators want to attract consumers for 5G devices and the Internet of Things (IoT), their retail locations need a facelift. Stores need to attract users with new, relevant, promotions and products, and then present those in a way that creates a compelling experience.

A New Approach to Merchandising Execution is Required

T-Mobile and others are taking the first step by expanding, opening thousands of retail stores across the country that enable customers to touch and feel the latest products. But this approach of opening this number of smaller retail locations comes with a big challenge: executing on merchandising, and ensuring the right products and promotions get delivered and displayed properly in each individual store.

Traditional retail supply chains enable localization by shipping a generic set of products and instructions, and then leaving store managers in charge of deciding how and where to merchandise those products. As wireless providers attempt to create compelling, localized experiences across thousands of stores, and do it more frequently, this approach creates huge challenges for store teams.

How do they stock more waterproof cases in Malibu, or more Beats headphones in Austin? What happens when the merchandising instructions shows five phones on a shelf, and your shelf only has room for three? Or when it shows a new virtual reality setup in a corner that doesn’t exist in your store?

The solution to this is using advances in technology to localize the products available in each individual store, and provide store teams with guided instructions on how best to merchandising those products so they sell.

Localizing Assortments and Guiding Execution

New technologies enable retailers to capture, and maintain, a digital model of every store. They capture the exact layout, even demographic attributes, and then apply these characteristics to every merchandising decision. The result is every store gets what will sell best, and gets only what it needs. The implications of this on the cost of inventory and sales performance are massive. Today, in the accessories category for example, most wireless companies ship generic assortments, creating large write-offs and slow inventory turnover.

The improvement in store team efficiency is also significant. Store teams see an execution plan that is completely tailored to their exact location. With no ambiguous instructions store teams can quickly execute the exact plan for their store, and make their store look perfect. Then, they can move on to start helping customers connect and understand new technology.

Finally, this approach improves the overall speed and quality of merchandising, and the presentation of products in a store. Recent research on merchandising execution best practices shows a direct link between this and retailer’s ability to increase sales in each store.

Next-Generation Networks Deserve Next-Generation Retail

Today, analysts predict that as many as 442 million connected consumer devices will be sold by 2020. This is an incredible market opportunity, and operators have all the raw materials required to deliver: a footprint of thousands of doors, knowledgeable store teams, blazing fast networks, and the purchasing power to curate collections of the latest and hottest new devices.

But to capitalize on the opportunity, operators must apply next-generation retail thinking to their existing retail footprints. They must break the boring lineup of smartwatches, tablets and phones, and create rich, immersive retail experiences that will lead to the adoption of new services. If they do, the opportunity to usher in the next-generation of connectivity, and build a deeper relationship with connection hungry customers, is there for the taking.