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UCS E-Series: A Platform for Innovation | Inside the Branch

We’re in November now, so of course it’s getting chilly outside -- even here in California! This means the holidays are right around the corner and retailers are gearing up for their busiest time of year. A growing trend these days is that more than half of holiday shoppers with smartphones plan to use these devices while shopping (53.8%, National Retail Federation). What better motivation for retailers to increase sales in all of their stores this season than by enhancing customers’ shopping experience with something like Facebook?

On the other side of town unfortunately, the holiday season goes hand-in-hand with the sniffling and coughing brought on by the winter cold and flu season. As usual, doctors will expect an influx of patients in their offices in the coming months. IT staff at hospitals need to prepare for the increased medical data traversing through the network and beyond.

Cisco UCS E-series on the ISR-AX is a consolidated solution in a single platform. With this solution, retailers can virtualize and host POS, video surveillance, and other applications.  Doctors in medical offices of any size can focus on taking care of their patients rather than worry about the network slowing them down.

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Omni-Tech for Omnichannel Selling

My last blog talked about the challenges of becoming an omnichannel retailer, and how stores are still learning how to make changes that cut across their entire business. We discussed how, appearances to the contrary, omnichannel selling is still about meeting a basic business requirement – finding the best outcome for you and your customer. However, finding these outcomes is a more complex proposition than it used to be.

Logically, to achieve consistent outcomes you need to achieve consistent consumer outreach, input, and sales approaches. But stores are also facing the demand to create a more personalized sales experience. How do you meet these seemingly contrary requirements? The key here is to find new ways to reach out to shoppers as part of the whole shopping experience, no matter what the channel.

For example, Cisco’s Remote Expert solution is a way to offer unique, personalized, yet centralized retail experiences for customers. It connects each shopper with a product expert wherever they are located, in real time, via mobile, immersive, or on-site channels. You save by leveraging your experts across single or multiple locations and devices using a pool of experts who may or may not be co-located, instead of providing expertise at every site or asking them to travel extensively. Retailers can also use the same solution to host training and corporate meetings, or to enable store feedback on products and merchandising. The result is a personalized shopping experience at a lower cost for the store.

Pretty sweet, don’t you think? To learn more, take the time to attend the webcast “Just Ask the Expert: Connect Your Shoppers to Virtual Experts, Anywhere, Any Time,” being held on Nov. 7. You can register here.

Truly omnichannel technologies are designed to support cost savings and efficiency, providing a more seamless interface for service that is customized for the shopper. As I said in my last blog, these approaches focus first and foremost on customer needs, making it easier to do business with your company.  A customer-centric strategy cuts across the business and all its channels, creating a different kind of relationship between you and your shoppers. See what Retail Systems Research has to say in their latest report about omnichannel strategies.

I love retail trivia! Comment below if you know the answer to this question: What is the second-most visited retail business in America? (Wal-Mart is first.)

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Three Flavors of CMX Analytics: Onsite, Online & Social

Big data seems to be everywhere these days. Everywhere you look there are new companies and technologies that promise to crunch up enormous databases and instantly extract from them knowledge and understanding.  Although that sounds impressive, it raises the question – how can that help me and my business? How does fitting an N degree polynomial to a CRM database help me grow my business?

At Cisco, we’ve taken a very practical approach to big data. We started by asking our customers: what do they want to know? What information would help our customers’ better manage their sites, optimize their operations and grow their business? We took those questions and built Connected Mobile Experiences (CMX) Analytics around them.

iStock retailWouldn’t a store manager want to know how many of his customers were new? Did that new marketing campaign launched last month really drive new visitors to the store? Or another example, let’s say the layout of the store was just changed, wouldn’t the manager want to know if it was effective? Did people spend more time in the store? How about better understanding your customer base?  Which web sites do my visitors visits? And of course retail isn’t the only segment that would like to know things. Wouldn’t an airport want to know how long people wait in the security line? Would a train station like to know how long before the train leaves people come into store?

Cisco’s CMX Analytics takes anonymous device location data gathered by the Cisco Mobility Services Engine (MSE), and leverages that data to provide clear, concise and relevant information.  In order to make the data easier to visualize, we have recently enhanced our user interface adding many features that help users immediately and intuitively grasp the data.  Our new dashboard enables every user to customize the views they wish to see and prioritize which data is meaningful to them. Our new Path engine enables customers to visualize how many people walk through the different paths in their venue. Our new reports can tell our customers everything from how many people are using their Wi-Fi to which floor people spend the most time in.  These are just a few examples of the many innovations pouring into out CMX Analytics platform. Read More »

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Using Cutting-Edge IoE Technologies To Deliver Old-Fashioned Customer Experiences

Ever step into a small-town “mom and pop” store? The owners seem to know everyone in the community, along with their individual needs, likes, dislikes, and current life situations.

It’s not easy to scale that kind of old-fashioned customer intimacy to a larger retail setting, online or off. But in the Internet of Everything (IoE) era, the same technology that is leading us headlong into the future may also help us take a step back. In the process, it may go far to improve customer experience and cement brand loyalty.

While IoE can’t conjure a kindly couple to help with a purchase, someday soon you may enter a store, bank branch, or car dealership and be guided through the steps of the process via your smart device. You’ll be greeted at the door with a personalized message. And while you’re browsing, talking to a salesperson, or engaging with an expert, you will receive content automatically to support your customer journey and your eventual buying decision. All of these suggestions will be rooted in your past purchases and browsing history, and reflect your individual needs, likes, dislikes, and current life situation (sound familiar?).

CustomerExperience

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How the Heck Do You Omnichannel?

The buzz in retail these days is “omnichannel” – we see slogans such as “Engage with Today’s Omnichannel Consumers,” “Develop Your Omnichannel Business” frequently. Cisco itself uses this word often. But in all honesty, I don’t think many people fully grasp the concept and its potential. And I don’t know of any retailer that has a complete approach to it. That’s right: None. 

Omnichannel retailing is about opening the store, its products, and services to shoppers in an immersive way that drives customer interaction across any point of access, at any time. “Omnichannel” is not just about connecting existing systems, it’s a transformational way to look at how you conduct business.

Becoming an omnichannel retailer is a broad undertaking, and many retailers are creating new executive positions to lead this strategy. However, I think these companies may be missing the boat. When thinking about omnichannel strategies, consider three key points:

First, a customer-centric strategy cuts across all organizations in the business – it can’t be sidelined into one business function such as IT. I often consult with retailers who experiment with different capabilities in a disconnected way; essentially, they throw technologies at the wall and wait to see what sticks. Instead, why not start by asking, “What does my customer want? How can I build a loyal relationship with them?” It’s all too easy to assume that showrooming is the enemy. But, really, why, for example, is Amazon successful? It’s not because they are available on a mobile phone. It’s because they are easy to do business with, offer good pricing, and deliver quickly. It’s about the way they address customer needs.

Next, I think stores often try to do too much at once (see wall-sticking, above). Instead, I recommend a phased approach that starts with the low-hanging fruit – projects that have the highest probability of effectiveness and can be measured against business targets as a whole. Every store has its niche, and one size does not fit all. By achieving rapid successes up front, retailers gain funding for the next piece of the strategy, building from success to success.

Finally, accept the fact that an omnichannel business will change how people work. Are you avoiding Internet access because you think associates will waste time surfing the web? Some may – but your good salespeople will be able to leverage online information to help them serve shoppers. Concerned that showrooming on the floor will drive customers away as they find lower prices online? Build your own identity, brand, and incentives into the online environment to drive sales. Worried that an online storefront or call center will undercut in-store sales? Run the numbers on losses over time as consumers find your store is the only one without convenient mobile customer support.

Omnichannel is not about the technology. Rather, it’s about finding the best outcome for you and your shoppers. To achieve success, IT and business must work together to solve customer problems for the store as a whole – there’s no other way to do it with complete success. Check out this great blog by Cara Waters, Five Lessons in Retail Trends.

I love retail trivia! Comment below if you know the answer to this question: What is the oldest US retail company?

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