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Competing to Win in the High Stakes World of Cisco branded Merchandise

January 8, 2019 - 0 Comments

Finding the right fitting room

As shoppers, we expect the store associate to be that bridge of knowledge – connecting our nebulous desires with their artfully arranged inventory.

In my experience, most fitting rooms are anything but thoughtful.  All I ever wanted in a dressing room was that they were easy to find, showcase nothing more than my ankles and have a door latch I can count on.

As I have recently learned, the fitting room experience, may be one of the most overlooked opportunities for clothing retailers.

Exit through the Gift Shop

I have always thought of Cisco Building 11 as a place to eat.  To be truthful, I get a bit of anxiety each time I go because there is no one way to travel…it’s quite diverse. There is a fantastic variety of fresh, multi-ethnic, food items, cooked on demand, ready to carry out each workday.   As you pay for your food, all set to begin your search for ‘the cool table’ to drop tray, you will hopefully feel the gravitational pull of Cisco branded merchandise.

I think the Cisco Store has been there for quite awhile.  I always like it when I visited since we don’t have anything like it in Dallas.  It’s  no longer ‘just a store’ though…it’s a lab.

Look Up. Something different is happening here.

It’s a beautiful layout.  My eye was drawn to the ceiling. Cisco wireless.  Meraki cameras.  Intel sensors. Yeah…there is definitely some RF in this place.  In fact, everything is tagged.  Each item has a small, flexible RFID tag, tracking its location in space.

No big deal you may think. Anyone ever caught shoplifting knows how that stuff works. But. This was not for security.  I should say, not ‘just’ for security.

Some of my extended had been working hard on this place for the last year. They asked me to drop by.  So I picked out a few shirts to try on.  Just a quick side note…I generally think of my first trip to any fitting room as ‘aspirational.’   Despite my love for technology, I am a pretty simple guy.  I don’t expect much out of these things…frankly, I just want to keep moving.  I am pretty happy if there is a place to sit, a place to hang a few things…and a door that latches completely, (you know what I mean).

All of these expectations were met just fine.  Two things were different.  Something about the mirror I could not quite put my finger on…and on the wall…something I could…put my finger on: an iPad.

Mirror, Mirror.

Finding a mirror inside a fitting room is probably not too big a surprise.  This may be my favorite kind of mirror though…because it has a television in it.

Mirror Mirror on the wall…

In its default state this is a selfie mirror where you can try stuff on and, using your own device, take pictures and post to social media…or engage with your stay at home fashion consultant (a spouse?).   Mirror TV’s are pretty cool…I have seen them used to hide the fact there is a TV in a fancy living room, bathrooms of course.  For our purposes however, what makes this particular one cool is that the TV image is being fed by Cisco Vision.   This allows a retailer to customize content as needed.    This kind of things always makes me wonder if there is a camera in the fitting room…and there is not.   This is not a mirror designed to give you advice.  Rest easy.  Hold off on your emails.

I Touch, You Touch.

There is another screen in the room that I think you will find even more interesting.  That wall mounted tablet…is somehow showing exactly what you just carried in.  Not an image of you carrying them in…it’s the meta-data actually.  Big deal, you say…but this is not magic trick, the magic really happens when you touch it:  Now you can see what other color and size options are in inventory.   You may even get suggestions for complimentary items like a belt, jewelry, or a Cisco branded USB key.

My favorite, thing I never knew I wanted until I experienced it thing, was that I could call for help.   More specifically, I could discreetly alert a store employee who instantly knows what I have already chosen and offer assistance by bringing, in my case, a larger size or two.

I like shopping fast.  Or if not fast, then at least efficiently.  I never had to leave the dressing room until I found what I wanted, and as I stepped out, that same store associate offered to check me out.  That sounds vain. Let me re-phrase that.  Offered to help me pay for the items I had decided to purchase.  Although, in this instance, she did not just do it for me, she showed me how I could do it myself using my phone.  No need to go to a register or wait for someone.

These are the kind of things that build loyalty. I shop at Amazon because it is too darn easy.  Clothing, as just one example, is something I like to touch, feel and try on.  Anyone that can make that physical experience more productive and enjoyable will win my business.  Granted…Cisco pays my salary…so the loyalty is pretty strong already…but you know what I mean.

This is how brand relationships can change.  Every customer oriented business can benefit from this kind of implementation.  This is how we can bridge the online persona with the physical reality.


Now, if you are curious about some of the details…continue reading.

Big Data starts with Little Data

Good retailers spend a lot of time and money laying out their stores to look inviting.  They want you to come in, find stuff you like, and make a purchase.   This is not all that easy.  Getting a warm body in the door can be challenging enough.   What happens inside the store, beyond an overly general sales metric, has not always been easy to measure.

Many retailers have the extremes covered.  ‘Presence’ can be tracked to measure how many people came in.  That can then be correlated with sales figures.  It’s valuable, sure, but there is a lot more data between these two points.

Measure what Matters

If we can measure these in-between steps, we could figure out what kind of things can be improved.


From the data perspective, one of the most interesting conversations I had was with Dan Natale, Vice President, Customer Engagement Strategy with StoreAdvise.  They make a suite of smart software tools, specifically for retailers, looking to extract more usable data from the physical shopping experience.  They have an application called ‘Vision’ that can physically run on a Cisco ISR so that there is no additional hardware to worry about.

The amount of usable data that can be gleaned from an online shopping experience can leave the physical side of retail feeling a bit jealous.  Dan was able to walk me through a number of great examples that renew my belief that we are headed for a resurgence…perhaps ‘re-balancing’ would be my term, where online and physical shopping are both optimized. Dan explained how IoT has provided a way to gather more actionable data on the merchandise a shopper interacts with.

“The retailer couldn’t determine a relationship between items tried on and those purchased. Which means, they didn’t have any data on best sellers or low-sellers beyond the point-of-sale data that told them whether an item was purchased or still on the rack.”  Dan continued, “Shopper and merchandise behavior was a black hole”.

Most people need to try something on before they commit to buying.  So anything taken into a fitting room certainly indicates a preference.  This data can also reveal patterns that affect inventory strategies, localized preferences, and more. No need to rely solely on sales data. In fact, think how valuable it is to know exactly what made the initial preference round, but did not get purchased?

Store associates can use this data to affect change at key moments within the store.  There are some employees who know their inventory well enough to provide efficient assistance, but now there is real time location tied with actual inventory to fetch size and color options.

As with all things, this kind of knowledge must be handled professionally.  I can see how new training and engagement styles may vary based on brand.  This is not a new challenge though, retailers have been doing this for years. Even as an amateur shopper, I am usually armed with my ‘just looking’ face packaged and ready to fire toward anyone encroaching on my space.

Source: The Promise of IoT: Can Real-Time Data Transform Your Store?, Dan Natale, VP of Customer Engagement, StoreAdvise

Golden Moment Momentum

There is also a key moment of time between having decided that something is worth purchasing…and then actually purchasing it. I think of this a place for potential friction.   In my experience, a long line to that single register, waiting while someone rifles through an impressive collection of coupons.  In some department stores… I have trouble finding the register at all.  These are the things that can create enough friction where buying decisions get put off.    Retailers are always looking to make this a smooth transaction so they can avoid the ‘abandoned cart’ issue that online stores monitor so closely.  Friction can be deadly.

Instead of just complaining about this kind of friction, Mustafa Khanwala decided to do something about it.  Mustafa is CEO and CoFounder of Mishipay, a mobile self checkout solution providing the best of the online checkout experience to physical retail stores.

Mishipay’s 2015 inception began with Mustafa standing in line.  He had been waiting in a supermarket queue for over 20 minutes, just to buy a single can of soda. He thought there must be a better way to do this, for both stores and their customers.

Mustafa told me that their technology “allows in-store shoppers to pick up a product, scan the barcode and pay with their phone, and simply walk out of the shop with their purchase”.


As mentioned earlier, there are Intel sensors, Meraki cameras and Cisco access points.  Data and power are delivered through a single PoE cable running from a Cisco ISR.

Discrete radio frequency identification (RFID) devices known as the Intel Retail Sensors to be positioned within stores and stockrooms. They can communicate wirelessly with the thousands of tags that can be attached to products for real-time, accurate and granular location information about every single item of inventory if desired.

A Senseful Architecture

Just like that, real-time inventory analysis now makes it possible for store associates to spend more time on customers, and less time counting and trying to find stuff.

The security cameras are from Meraki.  I am a big fan of these since they come with Meraki’s cloud based magic and ease of use, built in.  Highly intelligent and network aware, rather than constantly clogging your network with streaming video, they have their own memory, storing everything you need, and only share what’s important.  They grow through Machine Learning and really shine when you remember, that cameras are sensors.  Meraki has made it easy to use these same cameras to gather data about presence, dwell locations, people vs. objects vs. animals (if that is helpful in your situation).

The Meraki and DevNet teams are currently analyzing CMX data to help hone the analytics making it more accurate and useful.  I call it CMX as many of you may be familiar with that term, but DNA Spaces is the terminology for Cisco’s end to end location based services offering.  The July Systems integration has already made a lot of progress and these location services are getting easier to set up and deliver by the day.

High Stakes Tchotchke

The store may look like a Cisco store run by Cisco people, and that is by design.

Robertson Marketing Group has specialized in company store operations like this for many years.   I talked to owner John Robertson and discovered that his family run company has specialized in corporate retail stores since he was 19 years old. They are the invisible operations team delivering a tactical brand experience. Like any other multi-site retail operation, they are a business.

If you get a chance to go to Cisco Live, which you should, and you wander through the big, cool, retail store that get’s built out…usually near the World of Solutions….that is John’s team.   Tell him hi. They have been great to work with.

In fact, when Cisco’s internal creative agency, ‘the Hatch’ was looking to do something different with the Cisco store last year, they started brainstorming the idea of connecting all the dots. The idea to make this a living lab made theoretical sense, but as John related to me, it still needed to work within his ongoing operations. Regardless, he was on board right away.

Bridging the Physical and the Virtual Worlds

If you are a Cisco customer, or perhaps considering the merits of becoming one, a pilgrimage to the San Jose Headquarters can reveal wonders.  The very best way to ensure a great experience, starts with your account manager.   Ask how you and a group of fellow leaders from your company, could get a customized, peer to peer, introduction to the latest technologies leading change around the world.   Cisco’s Customer Experience Center’s  are an interactive art form, perfected over the years, and they are made just for you.   They have these around the world…but since I am directing you to check out retail store/lab….San Jose is your place.

A lot of these briefings are held in the incredible demonstration facility found on the ground floor of Building 10.  Most of your food will probably be catered in. Which is nice.  One of the bigger employee cafeterias is right next door.  This is also where you will find the most technologically endowed swag distribution points in the world.




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