The coronavirus pandemic may be creating a new, contactless norm for retail, but Singtel is showing how 5G innovation could see customer experience enhanced

For much of the pandemic, physical shopping has been prohibited and avoided unless absolutely necessary. Even once such strict lockdown measures were finally lifted, guidance still remained in place to ensure that shoppers kept their distance and reduced physical contact to the minimum.
While undoubtedly necessary, these changes have been a detriment to most customers retail experience and, with the coronavirus pandemic nearing a second wave in some countries, these ‘low-touch’ restrictions are likely to be in place for some time yet. 
However, this does open the door for innovation.
Singtel launched its non-standalone 5G network just last week and is already putting it to good use, providing unmanned pop-up stalls entirely powered by the new technology. The connected kiosks provide SIM replacements and device collection, as well as real-time analytics.
To call the kiosks ‘unmanned’ is perhaps a little unfair, since they will in fact be overseen by AI-driven robots, which Singtel are calling Stanley and Stella, aiming to provide a more personalised shopping experience for visiting customers. Stanley will also play a role in keeping the area pandemic-safe, being directly connected to the kiosk’s security systems, helping to ensure that social distancing is adhered to, as well as identifying any visitors with a high temperature via the kiosk’s sensors.
“COVID-19 has ushered in a new, digital way of life for many people, accelerating a fundamental shift in the retail industry toward a hybrid online and offline retail model,” said Yuen Kuan Moon, CEO, Consumer Singapore at Singtel.
This idea of a hybrid retail model, merging online and in-store shopping, is not new and was gaining traction before the coronavirus, when many high street stores were already losing out to their online counterparts. However, the pandemic has certainly accelerated this process and 5G will be instrumental in taking this hybrid customer experience to the next level. In particular, augmented and virtual reality could be transformative, allowing customers to experience products in new and exciting ways.
Reduced contact shopping may only be temporary, but the 5G advances being made are changing the face of retail for the long term.
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