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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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Cisco extends market leadership for Unified Access with revolutionary ASIC

Cisco innovates in the industry’s largest product line

Cisco Unified Access is about converging wired and wireless networks to improve scale and quickly launch new services with new levels of security and compliance.

When Cisco launched the Catalyst 3850 and WLC 5760 Controller in January 2013, it stood alone in the market for truly converging Wired and Wireless networks. Over the course of the last 2.5 years, Cisco has progressively extended its lead with more platforms and features based on the revolutionary ASIC which makes this rich convergence possible. And just this month, Cisco delivered Multi-gigabit Ethernet (or mGig), which enables the move to higher Wireless speeds based on the IEEE 802.11ac Wave 2 standard. Let’s start by clearly articulating why the home-grown ASIC is so fundamental to successfully integrating Wired and Wireless networks in a seamless way.

The foundational ASIC which Cisco developed is called Unified Access Dataplane (UADP). It cost well over $150M, and took several years to develop and refine. It delivers Hardware performance with Software flexibility and comes with many unique innovations. The defining characteristic of this ASIC is the true full-featured convergence of Wired and Wireless traffic together with its flexible forwarding engine.

Read More »

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The Internet of Things: Retail without Boundaries at Synergy

Last week I was in Orlando attending NCR’s Synergy Conference, which, this year focused on “Inspired Commerce.”  At the show I heard a lot of dialog with retailers and technology partners about how the Internet of Things and the integrated use of mobility in our day-to-day lives is changing how retailers engage with consumers. I addressed this topic in my session at the show, but wanted to mention a few highlights in hindsight.

First, the use of mobile devices during the shopping journey is no longer for millenials and early adopters only. They are certainly the heaviest users, but across the board in the US, 55% of shoppers are making use of retailer-specific applications, and 34% are using independent shopping apps such as Groupon, Zulily, etc. More than 40% of consumers want to receive their loyalty points/perks and discounts in real time, while shopping in the store, vs. receiving the same information in snail mail or in email.

Second, mobile is becoming integral to the shopping process. Retailers are facing demands for greater convenience, transparency, and interactivity with their consumer base that would have been unimaginable even a decade ago. (As a side note, this is extending into other industries as well, such as healthcare and financial services.)  Consumer expectations are evolving, and with this, retailers need to be able to offer new and effective engagement opportunities with their brand.

Other disruptors include fast-changing technologies such as social media use (not just Facebook and Twitter, but now Pinterest and Instagram) and the need to aggregate social sentiment data; unstructured data such as photos, posts, Tweets; and structured data coming from legacy systems such as CRM, SCM, and POS to make real-time decisions at the edge of the network – in the store or online where the rubber meets the road.

So – high volumes of structured and unstructured data, exponentially growing sophisticated consumer demands, and the growing use of mobile devices in the shopping journey. How does the retailer leverage all of these opportunities to make the most of this evolution?

With billions of connections, sensors and devices lighting up the Internet of Things, the aggregation of structured and unstructured data to deliver real-time analytics on mobile devices for store associates and mobile engagement via apps aimed at consumers, the opportunities are endless.  Retailers that can deliver hyper-relevance – which, according to Cisco’s research, is increasingly what consumers prefer during the shopping process – will be the ones who stand out.  Hyper-relevance delivers to me, the consumer, what I want, when and how I want it, in the context where I am at that particular moment.

To succeed in this new paradigm, retailers must earn consumers’ trust and deliver consistently as a brand to get access to the data that lets them provide a truly relevant real-time experience. Once consumers are willing to share a certain amount of personal data – at Cisco, we call this the “trust cliff” – retailers can use real-time analytics to turn that data into actionable insights.

We have identified three key attributes that retailers must possess to deliver hyper-relevance and build a dynamic infrastructure and processes:

  1. Hyper-aware: By implementing and automating edge technologies such as sensors, cameras, beacons, and RFID tags, retailers can capture value from the intelligence and automation that is now available to them. This is the way to begin to gain true visibility into what the customer is experiencing in the store, how they are dwelling in the store, where they need help with the shopping process.
  2. Predictive: By overlaying intelligence and analytics on top of these edge technologies, retailers can gain real-time anticipatory insight into what is happening, what to expect, and how to meet customers’ real-time needs. If retailers can more systematically determine peak timeframes and loyal customers’ shopping patterns, they can anticipate the staffing needs to speed up the shopping process and assist customers through the checkout process faster.
  3. Agile: Agile, solid infrastructures, adaptive business processes, and associate training capabilities are critical to being able to deliver the kinds of dynamic experiences discussed here. When business processes can change dynamically and associates trained to respond and do what’s best for the customer, all while leveraging technology and insights gained from integrated systems, the customers’ shopping experience can delivered in an excellent manner.

This is obviously not as easy as it sounds.  Implementing a hyper-aware, predictive, and agile network to respond to your customer demands is very difficult.  We in the Cisco Business Transformation Team work with customers to help them explore where they are today and where they want to take their business in the future, and work arm-in-arm with them to look at what it would take to get from where they are today to this desired future state.

We recommend the following steps:

  1. Forget everything you thought you knew about the digital consumer – all the old paradigms are melting away and “segmentation” no longer applies
  2. Go to the edge for visibility into what customers are experiencing at that moment
  3. Build a dynamic infrastructure and create agile processes that to support the customer experience
  4. Develop new business models that drive innovation and enable hyper-relevance

If you would like to download the white paper from Cisco Consulting Services that I’ve referenced, please click here.

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Introducing Cisco Remote Expert Mobile

It seems like once a week I come across an article about how mobile devices will revolutionize customer care. To some degree, the articles all share a theme: “Make your life simpler with anytime anywhere access to… your bank, insurance provider, even a doctor.

These articles are chock-full of facts and figures. They tell us consumers prefer to access customer care via mobile devices. And they report that companies are in their infancy when it comes to implementing improvements to meet this demand.

(And can you believe it? I’m almost finished with the introduction and I haven’t dropped the most bodacious customer-care buzzword of all: omnichannel!)

So much has been written about omnichannel that I don’t think I can add much more. Other than: As a consumer, I want it!  I want the consistent customer care experience that omnichannel promises as I move from one channel to another.

But if I’m being honest, what I really want is a complete end-to-end experience on whatever channel I happen to be on.

My options are limited if I’m logged into my banking app on my iPad and I need live help. I could use my phone and call into a queue, or request a call back, or maybe even start a chat session. But how is this making my life simpler?  I still have to re-authenticate myself, maybe go through an IVR process, explain what I’m looking for… You get the picture. Read More »

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3 Determining Questions and One Can’t-Miss 4G LTE Webinar

Hot Air Balloon in the FogAn Unforgettable Experience

It’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday. Filled with excitement and anticipation, I watched as my hot air balloon, the last one in the bunch, inflated. Around me, one after another, balloons started to float effortlessly off the ground into the air. The Napa Valley’s sun glittered in the distant as my balloon finally took off. At 1,050 feet, some fogs rolled by, then I saw it: a shadow of my balloon in the fog encircled by a rainbow – see the picture above, top right. I quickly pulled out my iPhone 6, snapped a panoramic, and posted it on Facebook. It was the most mesmerizing experience ever, not just because of the experience itself, but also because I can share it with my families and friends via 4G LTE. However, 4G LTE isn’t just for smartphones.

Connecting the Unconnected

The world of things, a.k.a Internet of Things (#IoT), around us is connecting in ways beyond imagination. According to a November 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review, “Smart, connected products are changing how value is created…(and) will affect the trajectory of the overall economy, giving rise to the next era of IT-driven productivity growth for companies, their customers, and the global economy.” For example, just-in-time inventory replenishment, powered by connected vending machines, enables one business to capitalize on OpEx savings and increase revenue per unit. Wireless monitoring allows an oil and gas company to quickly respond to pipeline issues in rugged, remote locations. Connected lightning empowers one smart city to reduce crime rate and improve its residents’ quality of life. Even one’s personal space, such as the home, is becoming more connected with the use of #WEMO products and smart devices integration (those coming to #CES, you must see the Connected Home demo). This Digital Transformation, powered by 4G LTE, brings about considerable improvements in the ways we work, live, and play.  Read More »

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