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Determining the Value of the Virtual Shopping Experience

We are increasingly hearing about the value of improving the shopping experience by adding virtual expertise to the store. As head of Cisco’s Retail & Hospitality practice, I frequently talk to customers who are exploring this concept – though what I mainly hear are questions! While many are interested in the idea, they are still trying figure out whether or not a virtual customer expert is going to add more revenue to their bottom line.

Putting a collaborative expert into the store – virtual or physical – can actually be critical to meeting the needs of the consumer, especially during the purchase of a high-priced product or for a purchase where it is very important to make the right decision. However, very often this level of expertise is not available in the aisle when the consumer is dwelling there. And yet, the presence of such an expert can be extremely important. For example:

  1. A mother is shopping for an over-the-counter decongestant late in the evening for her child, who is also taking medication for ADD. A pharmacist is not available, but getting the wrong medication could be life-threatening.
  2. A couple is buying a printer for their college-age daughter, who shares an apartment with three other students. They need a printer that can be networked so all four girls can print their assignments and research papers.
  3. A party host would like to purchase several cases of wine that complement the menu, but are not overwhelmingly expensive.
  4. A couple is browsing the latest assortment of home security devices, trying to make sense of what will work with their current network configuration.

Savvy retailers debate how to solve the problem of providing highly paid experts to be immediately available to consumers, without footing the bill for an employee who may be idle part of the time. Additionally, it may be necessary to provide a level of privacy while engaging the expert. The retailer’s quandary is how to attractively offer this service in a way to increase basket and justify this use of valuable selling space.

Forward-looking retailers recognize that this capability is part of providing a truly integrated omnichannel experience. Shoppers are no longer either in the store or online… they are both, and sometimes at the same time. Thanks to our mobile devices, consumers can research, compare prices, and shop with our mobile devices in the aisle. According to Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren, retailers need to adopt a “digical” strategy – a term coined by Bain & Company’s Darrell Rigby and Suzanne Tager – meaning the seamless integration of digital with physical retail. (For more, check out the article, “The Future of Retail Will Be Won or Lost in ‘Digical.’”)

In any channel in this digical world, retailers will lose revenue if they are unable to differentiate themselves by providing excellent value, combined with the appropriate amount of customer service. And here is where the virtualized experience can drive a new level of engagement for the brick-and-mortar store. Via video collaboration on a consumer’s mobile device, a kiosk display, online, or an associate’s tablet, shoppers looking for advice can easily connect with your centralized or outsourced pool of experts for immediate assistance. Let’s go back to the scenarios above:

  1. A QR code is posted on a sign that reads: “Photograph this sign with your mobile device and you can speak to one of our pharmacists on call 24×7.” The pharmacy service immediately calls the mother’s mobile phone number to discuss which medication will be safe for her ADD son.
  2. An associate in the printer aisle approaches the couple and boots up an expert session on his tablet to discuss feeds, speeds, and price points. This helps the family determine which printer will best fit their daughter’s needs.
  3. The party host approaches a kiosk to engage a wine expert. He enters the date and time of the party so that weather can be taken into account, the centerpiece menu items, and his desired price range. He then engages with a virtual expert who provides options as well as a special discount based on the number of cases. Additionally, he is offered a 50% discount on disposable wine goblets.
  4. As the couple browses an array of home security options, the retailer pushes a promotion to their mobile device: “If you would like a complementary home security assessment, follow this link to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.” This in-home expert then cross-sells and upsells products from a tablet in the home, and schedules an in-store meeting when products arrive to discuss installation.

When used in conjunction with brick and mortar, virtual in-store and online expertise complement the natural selling journey with consumers to fill an important gap in the omnichannel experience. Click here to learn more about Cisco’s thinking in this area, or contact me at

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National Dance Institute Waltzes Its Way Into Video Collaboration

dance 1Collaborative video isn’t just for globally dispersed teams or CEOs looking to close the next big deal. Recently, it brought together a dozen students who are connected by a love of dance but separated by 8,000 miles.

Cisco and Tata Communications have been working with the National Dance Institute (NDI) since 2011 to find ways video technology can enhance dance. Founded by former New York City ballet principal dancer Jacques d’Amboise and  located in the heart of Harlem, NDI is dedicated to introducing children to the arts.  Using dance as a catalyst, NDI promotes the belief that the arts are primary and vital in our society and should be a major part of every child’s development and education.

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Meet the “Collaboration Generation”

There are seismic shifts taking place in our increasingly connected society. Mobile phones and devices aren’t just for staying in touch—they’re instruments of commerce, learning and entertainment. Social networking sites are creating communities of interest around any topic you can imagine—and whatever you’re into, there’s an app for that. Video is everywhere. Not just in the board room and on the desktop but the office lobby, the medical center, the sports arena, even the bottom on the ocean. And perhaps most importantly, Read More »

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Three Drivers of Collaboration

In my last blog, I asked the question “Is Collaboration Worth It? Every day, customers tell us collaboration is critical to their ability to compete—something top of mind right now. Why does collaboration matter? From our research and interviews with business leaders, we attribute the growing importance of collaboration to three fundamental trends:

  1. Competition comes from anywhere and everywhere. The barriers to entry are lower than ever, and you cannot predict who will enter your market next. It might be a startup in India, China, Africa or Eastern Europe—or competition from another industry. How do you stay ahead when you don’t know which organizations you’ll compete with next month or next year? Read More »

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Cisco IRIS Updates

Steven Boutelle, Vice President, Cisco Global Government Solutions Group would like to share some of the latest updates to the Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) program and provide an expert’s overview on where the satellite industry stands today. Watch Steven’s interview below!

To further assist in moving IRIS forward, TeleCommunications Systems, Inc. has been selected as an exclusive service provider. This is another milestone in the long-term collaboration between TCS and Cisco in an effort to move IRIS onward.

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