Competing to win in the high stakes world of Cisco branded merchandise
Finding the right fitting room
As shoppers, we expect a store associate to be a bridge of knowledge, connecting our nebulous desires with their artfully arranged inventory and getting us into a fitting room.
However, most fitting rooms are anything but thoughtful. Their function is usually served when they are easy to find, showcase nothing above the ankles, and have a door latch people can count on.
But I recently learned that the fitting room experience may be one of the most overlooked opportunities for clothing retailers.
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, multiethnic food items, cooked on demand and ready to carry out each workday. As you pay for your food, all set to begin your search for the “cool table” to set down your tray, you will hopefully feel the gravitational pull of Cisco branded merchandise.
I think the Cisco Store has been there for quite a while. I always liked seeing it when I visited San Jose, since we didn’t have anything like it in Dallas. It’s no longer just a store, though; it’s a lab.
It has a beautiful layout. My eye was drawn to the ceiling. Cisco wireless. Meraki cameras. Intel sensors. 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 caught shoplifting knows how that stuff works. But. This was not for security. Or I should say, not just for security.
Some of my extended team 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. 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 —frankly, I am pretty happy if there is a place to sit, a place to hang a few things, and a door that latches completely.
The fitting room at the Cisco Store met all of these expectations just fine. But two things were different. There was something about the mirror that I could not quite “put my finger on”…and on the wall was something I could put my finger on: a tablet computer.
Finding a mirror inside a fitting room is not a big surprise. This may be my favorite kind of mirror, though, because it has a television in it.
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 TVs are pretty cool. I have seen them used to hide the fact that there is a TV in a fancy living room. And in bathrooms, of course. For our purposes, however, what makes this particular one cool is that the TV image is being fed by Cisco Vision, allowing a retailer to customize content as needed. This kind of technology always makes me wonder if there is a camera in the fitting room. But rest easy. There is not. This is not a mirror designed to give you advice. So 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 it in, but the metadata for the product. Big deal, you might say, but this is not the magic trick. The magic happens when you touch it: Now you can see what other color and size options are in inventory. You may even get suggestions for complementary items such as a belt, jewelry, or a Cisco branded USB key.
But my favorite “I never knew I wanted it until I experienced it” thing was that I could call for help. More specifically, I could discreetly alert a store employee, who instantly knew what I had already chosen, that I needed assistance—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. Let me rephrase that. Offered to help me pay for the items I had decided to purchase. Although in this instance, she did not 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 kinds of things that build loyalty. I shop at Amazon because it is too darn easy. But 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 and the physical reality.
Now, if you are curious about some of the details…continue reading.
Big data starts with a 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 come in. That information can then be correlated with sales figures. It’s valuable, sure, but there is a lot more data between these two points.
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 of 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. Their Vision application can 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 renewed my belief that we are headed for a resurgence—or perhaps “rebalancing” would be a better term—in which online and physical shopping are both optimized. Dan explained how the Internet of Things (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 bring about change at key moments within the store. Some employees know their inventory well enough to provide efficient assistance, but now real-time location is tied with actual inventory to help associates 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.
Golden moment momentum
There is a key moment between having decided that something is worth purchasing and actually purchasing it. I think of this as a place for potential friction. Friction, for example, in the form of a long line to a single register where someone is rifling through an impressive collection of coupons. In some department stores, I have trouble finding the register at all. These conditions can create enough friction that customers give up and put off buying their chosen items. Retailers are always looking for ways to make the purchase process go more smoothly so they can avoid this “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, pay with their phone, and simply walk out of the shop with their purchase.”
As I mentioned earlier, at the Cisco Store there are Intel sensors, Meraki cameras, and Cisco access points. Data and power are delivered through a single Power over Ethernet (PoE) cable running from a Cisco ISR. Let’s look at some of this infrastructure in more detail.
Discrete RFID devices known as Intel Retail Sensors can 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.
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 sharing only what’s important. They grow through machine learning and really shine when used as sensors. Meraki has made it easy to use these cameras to gather data about presence, dwell locations, and 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 the information gathered more accurate and useful. I call it CMX, as many of you are familiar with that term, but Cisco 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.
If you get a chance to go to Cisco Live, which you should, and you wander through the big, cool retail store that gets built—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 Centers are an interactive art form, perfected over the years, and they are made just for you. They have these centers around the world, but since I am directing you to check out the 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 one of the most technologically endowed swag distribution points in the world.