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In Between the Numbers: The Future of the Store: A must-read trio of articles

December 22, 2011 at 11:59 am PST

If you’re a retail technologist and you haven’t yet read the December 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, let me offer a friendly suggestion: Stop what you’re doing. Find a way to buy the issue. Sit down and absorb.

Three articles (one of them an interview with JC Penney’s Ron Johnson, he of Target and Apple Store fame). It’s all about how we need to be thinking about the physical environment of retailing. What it represents. Why it’s critically important today and tomorrow. And what retailers have to do to save the store, and in doing so, save the business.

The reality of today’s shopping behavior is that it’s cross-channel. Consumers bounce between the so-called touch points as they move through the shopping journey, from PC to mobile to store. And then maybe to the cash-wrap. Or back to the PC. Or maybe to the tablet while curled up on the sofa.

At any of these points, you can win a customer. At any point you can lose a customer. The data from numerous sources – including Cisco’s October 2011 survey of US and UK shoppers – makes clear that the store can play a huge role in online transactions, and that the PC and smartphone play a huge role in store transactions.

Bottom line for those who diss the store: it’s still where the vast majority of shopping is happening. And, if you starve your store experience, you’ll lose customers in droves – even among those who found you on the web. (Anyone listening in, Hoffman Estates?)

We at Cisco have been studying cross-channel shopping for the past two years, and late on Monday afternoon, January 16th, at the National Retail Federation Show in New York, we’ll release our latest findings on where they’re shopping and how they’re shopping. We’ll also share how shoppers responded to some of the latest immersive, interactive digital ideas to hit the store floor.

Looking forward to discussing all this with you.

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In Between the Numbers: E-Com’s Killer Advantage, and What It Means for the Store

May 6, 2011 at 9:27 pm PST

E-Com’s Killer Advantage, and What It Means for the Store

Thinking about the store – and asking, in this age of Amazon.com, how the physical environment can create and deliver sustainable, differentiating value. It might be that the answers are found within the digital walls of e-commerce.

First, in all its various forms, e-commerce offers remarkable convenience – in time, in selection, shipment options, even prices. Can’t find it on one site? You’ll find it on another. Don’t want a new one? Would a used one do? Do you want to receive it tomorrow or next week?

E-commerce, in all its various forms, is also steadily improved through detailed analysis of shopper behavior. Total site visits, unique site visits, site navigation, abandon rates by page by product, and on and on.

Finally, e-commerce – and this, I think, is the real killer advantage for net-based retailing – offers a remarkable breadth and depth of content: What-it-is, how-to-use-it, how-good-it-is, what-they’re-saying, and what-else-you-might-like.

According to the Pew Research Center, Internet & American Life Project (2010), available retail content – more than convenience, more than price – is the reason why 83% of all broadband users in the US researched products online in the last year. On a typical day, 21% of US adults search for product information: Scan a top-quality site. Note the peer reviews and ratings. Product comparisons. Recommendations for accessories. Advice from designers. How-to-use-it videos. Quick connections to product experts. References to manufacturer links. On and on and on.

Content creates knowledge. Knowledge creates confidence. Confidence translates in retail to conversion and repeat business.

Envision Amazon.com for a moment without the breadth and depth of content. What if it gave its customers the standard experience of . . . a standard-issue store?

The challenge going forward for brick-and-mortar merchants: how to create convenience, enable behavioral analysis, and integrate content with the store’s inherent advantage of immediate product.

In the days ahead, it may be the difference between retail life and death.

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