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?).


Delivering such targeted interactions at the precise moments of truth can greatly enhance a customer’s experience, while encouraging him or her to make a decision in a store or online. These interactions can deliver cross-sell and up-sell suggestions and ensure that loyalty offers, points, and rewards are highlighted. Together, the enablement of personalization and contextualization will foster customer intimacy while driving improved conversion rates, sales, and even market share.

The Internet of Everything makes it all possible by extending Internet connectivity to physical objects (things and people) through wireless location-based services, video analytics, and sensors that monitor behavior, emotion, environment, and movement. The data collected and analyzed is shared among machines or with people, triggering processes that enable real-time data exchange and collaboration with customers. IoE — where things share data with people or other things to via innovative processes — will transform the ways in which we connect with and serve customers.

PayPal’s new Beacon device is a great example. It leverages Bluetooth to enable customers to pay at stores hands-free, bringing some of the convenience of online shopping to brick-and-mortar retailers. A consumer downloads an app and opts in. Upon entering a store, the customer is greeted by name; at checkout, his or her photo appears on the retailer’s checkout screen, and the order is confirmed verbally. The receipt is then emailed. According to Cisco’s Connected Customer Experience Report, such solutions will delight customers.

The overarching theme among all of these developments is the quest to attain customer loyalty in this digital age. Technology is, as usual, a double-edged sword: It is driving a revolution in customer engagement, but also impacting the effectiveness of traditional loyalty strategies. Studies have shown that customers — armed with new tools for comparing, choosing, and experiencing brands — are becoming increasingly brand-agnostic.

Those “mom and pop” shop owners know that the secret to loyalty lies in creating and maintaining emotional relationships with customers by understanding them and addressing their needs.

Customer intimacy is also the solution for modern retailers.

To attain it, organizations will need to:

  • Capture observations from myriad channels using sensor technologies, video and social-media analytics, and Wi-Fi
  • Analyze the data for actionable real-time insights, interpreting current behavior in the context of past shopping and browsing history, along with current position, time, mood, weather, season, and so forth
  • Respond with content that is insightful and relevant at the precise moment the customer needs it, while reflecting available offers, inventory, and suggestions

Current loyalty programs are still important, but they alone will not drive the level of customer experiences that will “catch and keep” an omnichannel shopper in today’s digital world. The key to winning the loyalty battle is to empower and engage customers through digital touchpoints that reinforce the value of your brand and create a sense of shared community. By acting in real time with content and support that is insightful and relevant, retailers will guide and reinforce every step of the consumer journey.

Those “mom and pop” shop owners might not be up on the latest ways to leverage real-time data or the new collaboration frameworks. But they are experts on human nature. In the IoE era, larger retailers will be able to repeat some of their great results: delighted, engaged, and loyal customers.


Rachael McBrearty

Chief Creative and Group Leader

Cisco Consulting Services