Despite the continued success of – and trend toward – ecommerce and online sales, brick-and-mortar stores remain the dominant form of retail. In the US for example, ecommerce accounts for $265 billion of all retail sales, while physical stores make up a massive $6.2 trillion of the overall total. Although online shopping is becoming more simplified and convenient, it is yet to displace long-standing conventions and the trust associated with physical stores and the brands that occupy them.A big reason behind this is the basic truth that people still prefer the experience of going out to shop. And this shows no sign of abating – brick-and-mortar sales increased 8% in 2022, up from a 5% increase the year before.
The enduring appeal of brick-and-mortar stores against a backdrop of the rising demand for convenient online shopping has resulted in a surge of research into how to combine the best elements of both. The 5G MEC Powered XR Digital Twin Store by Sturfee, Mawari, KDDI and Telefónica is a new example of how extended reality (XR) can create the experience of physical shopping with the convenience of ecommerce. Supported by the GSMA Foundry, the Digital Twin Store enables retailers to create, host, and connect a digital twin of their physical store. This means customers can use their mobile device to wander around digitally rendered shops where they can browse products, interact with customer services and even meet friends.
Sturfee’s mobile app enables a visual positioning service (VPS) that connects digital and physical spaces together, and synchronizes user activities across spaces. With the VPS enabled inside the shop, the app can determine the shopper’s position and orientation, and render them as virtual character. At the same time, the real-life shop assistant is rendered in augmented reality (AR) for the remote customer to interact with. These representations are supported by Mawari’s XR-Tuber app which captures and synchronizes face and voice data to produce lifelike results.
So far, the overall solution has been piloted in a Ginza store in Tokyo, and provides assistance for shoppers based in both Japan and Spain. The Mawari network orchestrates the service in both countries, finding the right cloud rendering server for XR-Tuber to work most effectively. Meanwhile, KDDI and Telefónica provide the MEC edge computing resources, low-latency and high-speed network connections, enabling the smooth and seamless transmission of data.
The pilot is a major breakthrough into how retailers can create a presence in XR platforms. It also provides insight into how these technologies can be extended to create new social and commercial experiences all over the globe – and across borders. To make such progress, all parties need to continue testing with different network profiles and investigate the minimum requirements for this type of service to run on LTE and 5G networks. The ultimate aim being to implement quality on demand (QoD) network parameters and APIs in the near future. When completed, brands will have a greatly simplified way in which they can create a presence in the metaverse – a huge boost to a market everyone is itching to see expand.
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