If this ongoing pandemic ordeal has taught me (probably some of you too! one thing- that is the future potential of e-commerce. I had never been a big fan of this, can’t recall buying anything online except for few books from Amazon. But now I am ordering fish, chicken, meat and even mangoes via online.
It’s not only me, even my father who always bought fish from local fish markets had to order those online. Sure, he eventually fell back to his offline buying habit (because the fish from the online store didn’t taste good; but there are many like me who got habituated with this and will probably continue to shop online.
Even without Covid-19, we were expecting e-commerce to grow significantly in coming years. According to the estimation from Statista, e-commerce should be accounted for a staggering 6.5 trillion US dollars in 2023. That’s a hell lot of money, but the key question is – what 5G or IoT will have to do about that?
To understand this, we first we need to understand what 5G or IoT has to offer. Once we know what these technologies are bringing on the table, we will be able to comprehend what impact it may have on e-commerce in the near future.
SO, WHAT 5G AND IOT ARE ALL ABOUT?
Simply put, 5G is the next generation technology for Mobile Broadband. People mostly think about getting very high download speed when they think of 5G. That’s because of their experience when they moved to 4G from previous 3G era. But 5G is also about low latency also where in simple terms, latency means the time internet takes to react against your action of pressing a button or clicking a link.
So how fast and how quick will 5G be? It depends on lot if things, but the expectation is that the download speed will be in 1 Gbps range while the latency will be around 1 ms. Although these are theoretical values, the real values will also be good enough to download a 4K movie in few seconds.
Internet of things (IoT) is relatively more common to our experience. Every POS machine which is used when we pay our bills through a credit card is an example of this. In simple terms, this technology will bring internet to things starting from your refrigerator to your car, your AC, your water reservoir and what not?
So how then will 5G and IoT give a boost to the e-commerce? Here are few ways how:
1. Scalability: Just not speed or latency, 5G will pump a huge amount of capacity in the mobile network. Which will allow the network to connect more people and thus enable more transactions. A report from Adobe Digital Insights suggests that 5G will boost e-commerce revenue by 12 billion US by 2021.
2. VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality): One of the major problems of e-commerce is – very often customers can’t see or experience by themselves the product which they intend to buy. With VR, that problem can be solved. And thanks to the super-fast 5G, that experience will be very smooth. Without frustrating buffering time, they will have a real feel in the shopping. Swedish furniture brand IKEA did a trial back in 2016 and now they already have opened an online VR store in Australia.
Same goes for Swarovski and Mastercard. Wearing a VR headset, the shopper is immersed in a virtual store featuring the Atelier Swarovski home décor line. As they browse the products, shoppers can place items in their shopping card by moving the headset up and down and purchase the items using their Mastercard account credentials.
3. How can (AI) I help you, sir?: We know that AI (Artificial Intelligence) toolkits like chatbots are already playing their parts in improving customer experience in shopping. In fact, clothing retailer H&M has a chatbot that delivers apparel suggestions based on the consumer’s preference. But when we are talking about too many products with too many variations, the AI algorithms can get terribly complex. With improved speed and latency of 5G, we can overcome this problem.
4. Inventory and Supply Chain Management: With the advent of IoT sensors and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags, a whole new dimension has been added to inventory and supply chain management. Now it is much easier to get all the important product information (like product types, availability, expiration dates, and others) without asking anyone anything. For the business owners, it is possible (thanks to the IoT sensor) to know the temperature and humidity in the warehouse which is very important for many products- specially the perishable ones. For the customer, they can always track where their intended product is now, the expected time of arrival etc.
5. Maintenance & Warranty: If a product has few environmental sensors, the seller can understand whether the product was kept in an environment specified in the instruction or not. For example, you should not keep a TV directly exposed to sunlight. Thus, the seller can send the warning notifications to the buyer to take pre-caution if required. This can help regarding the dispute typically rises regarding maintenance & warranty of the products which are sold online (and also offline).
6. Smart home appliances: If your refrigerator can tell you that you are running out of eggs and so orders a dozen by itself, that will be really cool. Also based on what you already have, if it can download a recipe from online for you; wouldn’t that be a great help? Or if your Air Conditioner can email the servicing center about the low gas pressure in the compressor- you will love it, right? At least I will, for sure!
7. Shipping by drones: Amazon already tried this back in 2016 although it wasn’t a big success. But you never know, so don’t get surprised if someday a drone knocks at your door with a pizza box you ordered half an hour back!
I think it is very risky (and often foolish too) to predict about technology. Still I have tried to show a few cases which may be reality in coming days. As you can see above, 5G will primarily help in creating the demand of e-commerce while IoT will take care primarily of the supply side of the equation. Together, they look like a match made in the heaven 😊