Superheroes and their super strengths have long captured our imaginations. And since many of these abilities are normal human traits stretched to a magical extreme, you may well have pictured how your own life would change with super speed, agility, or senses.

Today, such daydreams are getting just a bit closer to reality.  And while such powers won’t necessarily save the world (yet), they will make some common activities, such as shopping, a bit more super.

Smartphones have already assumed a central role in the retail experience. Yet the current level of smartphone interactivity is just the beginning. Exciting new capabilities are transforming the ways in which we interact — connecting our physical world to digital dimensions in very simple and intelligent ways. We will see more intelligent connections emerging across the entire customer journey: consideration, purchase, and usage.


Here are a few examples of how some retailers are tapping into IoE superpower abilities by connecting people to people and people to things, and making their brands and product experiences distinct:

  • At Apple stores, telepathy is becoming the norm. iBeacon sensors beam relevant, targeted product information to shoppers as they examine specific items.
  • Burberry bridges online and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences by utilizing RFID-tags on products, so customers can manipulate reality by experiencing products physically and virtually at the same time, while gaining access to product information and expanded inventories.
  • Mondelez International is connecting display units, using sensor technology to identify the age and sex of would-be snackers. Like precognition, these analytics determine which types of guilty pleasures are most appealing to customers, prompting video displays to deliver customized, targeted advertisements.
  • PayPal’s new Beacon device is enhancing agility; it allows customers to zip through checkout lines, recognizing when they want to pay, and enabling them to do so with a verbal confirmation. Starbucks is also endowing people with the ability to pay in the blink of an eye by whipping out a simple mobile wallet app.

McBrearty NRF SuperheroThese “superpowers” become possible as location-based services grow more precise, and alerts can be sent without the customer even opening his or her app. Improved analytics “engines” are supported by shifts in data processing, enabling targeted, real-time content delivery through sensors that don’t require expensive hardware or specialized infrastructure.

The opportunity goes far beyond the powers that can be used in the store. Increasingly, there will be more smartphone-based interactions over the entire course of a product’s lifespan.

  • The Home Depot’s Augmented Reality mobile app gives shoppers the ability to predict the future, by seeing what a door, faucet, or vanity will look like in their home.
  • Those Amazon Kindle owners who are vexed by the setup process can push the “Mayday” button. Like teleportation, they will then connect to a live expert through video chat.

It’s not just about superpowers for people. Imagine if your power drill had a sixth sense and sent a signal when it needed a new battery and an alert was sent to your phone; or, if malfunctioning, it automatically connected to a remote expert for help, even from a job site. That is Stanley Black & Decker’s vision.

The value for retailers from such breakthroughs is clear. They insert themselves into crucial conversations with the customer by offering price matching, access to expanded inventories, suggestions, and shopping lists. All of these combine to keep shoppers engaged and moving along the journey. In a past blog, I covered some of the great benefits from this enhanced customer connection.

Cisco_social_NRF14McBreartyIn addition, when customers make use of these new capabilities, it brings online analytics to the brick-and-mortar store — capturing data on traffic flows, dwell time, mobile platform usage, web destinations, and which products have been researched. Access to these real-time metrics enables retailers to better understand their customers’ behaviors and needs — whether they are buying or not.

Looking beyond the store, built-in product apps and sensors will also provide companies such as Stanley Black & Decker with a trove of data that will yield precise insights concerning how and when their tools are used, their efficiency, reliability, and so forth. The results will be invaluable for the future efforts of Stanley Black & Decker’s research and development and marketing teams.

I believe mobile interactions that endow us with contextual superpowers — spanning the entire customer journey — will be driving the next wave of retail transformation. What do you think? What super powers would you like to have?


Additional Information:



Rachael McBrearty

Chief Creative and Group Leader

Cisco Consulting Services