As I was walking the aisles at the National Retail Federation “Big Show” in New York last week, I was impressed with the myriad of connected, smart solutions now available to retailers. Augmented reality, data analytics, video-enabled in-store robots and warehouse drones, you name it, it was there.

I’m just as dazzled as everyone else by these new technologies, but I believe it is important for retailers to view them within the wider context of making their organizations digital enterprises by taking action on the Internet of Everything (IoE). IoE is the networked connection of people, process, data, and things, and Cisco projects these connections to surge from 13 billion today to 50 billion by the end of the decade. With a total value of $19 trillion from 2013 to 2022, IoE is a profound market transition.

For retailers, IoE is driving exponential complexity on multiple levels. Traditional retailers that adapt to the new IoE economy — and combine the best of the online and in-store experiences — will thrive. Those that don’t will lag.

Retailers must consider IoE as an opportunity to bring new value to customers, and the key to that is hyper-relevance. In Cisco’s latest retail study, survey respondents ranked IoE-enabled solutions that bring greater efficiency just behind those that bring them greater savings. Hyper-relevance means gaining contextual, situational awareness of each customer’s shopping journey — as it is happening.

To better understand hyper-relevance, let’s look at me, Joseph Bradley. I may be one customer, but in reality, I am many different shoppers. When I’m rushing to buy noise-canceling headphones before speeding to the airport for a flight, I’m one kind of shopper. In that moment, I don’t need irrelevant, personalized prompts and offers on my phone such as “Get 25% off on XYZ clothing now.” At such a time, I don’t care if the retailer knows my name or my hobbies; I just want speed and efficiency. However, when I’m comparing headphones at a leisurely pace on a Saturday afternoon at the mall, I’m another shopper altogether and open to different kinds of interactions.

To truly give me value and offer hyper-relevant solutions that will streamline my shopping journey, the retailer needs real-time insight into all my shopping journeys. For example, if a sensor on my shopping cart shows that it is moving 20 percent faster than the average in the store, I am that shopper, not the one lingering over the headphones looking for the best possible deal (or easily pulled into the camping section with an offer to help me stock up on supplies for my next vacation).

But how does a retailer begin to offer these kinds of hyper-relevant solutions? To start, retailers will need to identify those “dark assets” that will offer added value by being “lit up” with network connectivity. But that is only part of the overall picture. Sensors and beacons in shopping carts, shelves, parking lots, drones, and so on are a great start. But IoE is about people and process, not just data and things.

Retailers will need to tie it all together with dynamic, automated processes. Through IoE, process becomes an intelligent system that responds to a given situation within the context at hand and connects with both machines and people to enable critical, real-time responses and decision making. We have identified three key IoE attributes that retailers must possess to deliver hyper- relevance by building a dynamic infrastructure and processes:

1. Hyper-aware: By implementing and automating IoT technologies such as sensors, beacons, and RFID tags, retailers can capture value from the intelligence and automation that is now available to them. This is the way to gain true visibility into what the customer is experiencing in the store.

2. Predictive: By overlaying intelligence and analytics on top of these technologies, retailers can gain real-time anticipatory insight into what is happening, and what to expect. If the parking lot is filling up, but the store is nearly empty, staff can be redeployed before a bottleneck occurs.

3. Agile: Agile infrastructures and organizational models are critical to the kinds of dynamic experiences that we discussed. When business processes can change dynamically, human, technology, and product resources can be brought to bear in real time with tremendous efficiency.

These capabilities will go a long way to answering a critical question: How do customers experience the shopping journeys you deliver? Many retailers probably can’t answer that question with any real authority, at least not today. Increasingly, you will need to know. The way to do so is by implementing dynamic processes in the retail organization. This will drive critical differentiation as retailers are empowered to offer the kinds of hyper-relevant experiences that customers now demand.

And, most important of all, they will help me get my noise-canceling headphones as quickly as possible, so I can have a more relaxing flight.

For additional insights from industry thought leaders interviewed as part of our research project, click on the video:


Joseph M. Bradley

Global Vice President

Digital & IoT Advanced Services