When I was a kid, about two weeks before each school year started, my parents would take me shopping for clothes and school supplies. As a pre-teen I wasn’t exactly enthused about these trips, but one shop – a shoe store – always had my undivided attention at checkout time.

The store’s cash registers sat on a long counter that separated the front of the store (where the public shopped) from the back (containing more inventory and employee work spaces). Near each register were metal pipes that ran across the counter, up a side wall, along the ceiling, and then disappeared through another wall. When a customer made a purchase, an employee would roll the money and an invoice together, tuck them into a capsule roughly the shape and size of a soda can, and twist the capsule to close it. They would then lift the lid on one of the pipes and insert the capsule, causing it to vanish with a distinctive foomp!

I was fascinated. Where did it go? How do the pipes work? What is on the other end?

A short time later, through a different pipe, the capsule would reappear containing a receipt, change, and – to me – more questions. Why don’t all stores have these? Can you put capsules in several pipes at once, to make them race? What happens if you put a rubber ball or other small toy inside?

Those last questions illustrate why my parents kept a close eye on me during shopping trips.

Behind the curtainCisco Store Entrance

I know now that those pipes were pneumatic tubes. As a kid they seemed futuristic – almost magical. As an adult I have a different appreciation for them. I realize they were helping employees be more efficient and cash-handling more secure.

The Connected Cisco Store at Cisco headquarters has some similar magic. No pnuematic pipes (darn), but several state of the art technologies that make the store easier to operate and simpler to shop. There’s a fitting room that knows what merchandise you have and can suggest accessories, for instance. Meraki smart cameras capture data analytics that improve customer service and the operation of the store. Shoppers can even skip the checkout line, paying instead with an app on their phone.

I recently spoke with Rachael Weiss, global program manager for Cisco Stores, to learn how her team transformed the space from a small, outdated shop to the futuristic store it is today. Check out the What’s In Store episode of Cisco’s Beyond the Network podcast to hear the challenges they encountered, what they learned, and the store’s full capabilities.

Want to hear more? You can find the entire Beyond the Network series on SoundCloud, iTunes, or Spotify. (Go back regularly for new episodes or, even better, subscribe and like the podcast.)

Another interesting but inobvious element of the store is customer zero. That means Cisco is deploying some of its technologies there before they’re available to the public – essentially road-testing and improving them for the benefit of later customers.

Watch this video for another peek behind the proverbial curtain of the Connected Cisco Store, and to discover how Cisco’s Meraki cameras are bringing more than just improved security.