When we look back years from now on life before and after COVID-19, I think it’s going to be surreal to explain to future generations this blip in time we all went through. There’s no going to back to “the way things were”, but at the same time it’s encouraging and even exciting the road we are paving for the future ahead. For retail in particular, the opportunities are tremendous, and the technology Cisco can provide on the backend of this industry’s future endeavors almost seems limitless.

Think about your recent retail experiences: take-out only models from restauranteurs; curbside pickup from your favorite shops; and reimagining the online experience for our customers. The world has definitely changed.

So, what does this mean for retail going forward? From Cisco’s standpoint, it means powering an inclusive recovery for all. And that last piece is extremely significant: For All.

Inclusive recovery in retail

Cisco is dedicated to partnering with the retail industry and ensuring that we all excel and thrive in the new future ahead of us. Specifically, for retail at the NRF Retail Converge virtual tradeshow, we’re focused on what powering an inclusive recovery can do for our customers, our partners, our sellers at Cisco — and our retailers as well, as we all gradually return to work and adapt to this new environment. We’ve all seen over the last few months what the power of online retail holds. Cisco’s partnership with organizations like Kiva are helping retailers re-envision how to achieve their business outcomes of the future. As consumers return to the brick-and-mortar environment, Cisco technology and solutions help bridge the divide between the digital and physical environments.

Let’s pause for a second and just consider some stats that reflect the current state of the retail industry before we dive in:

  • Currently there is a 7.3% unemployment rate in retail. That’s more than a full point higher than the unemployment rate in the US.
  • More than half of retail customers are more likely to use curbside pickup as a result of COVID-19.
  • More customers than ever are buying online, with e-commerce sales expected to double over the next few years.

These data points aren’t shocking, but they represent a shift in the retail model. They signify a need to address how businesses, especially from a storefront/brick-and-mortar perspective, can still serve their customers safely and protect their staff inclusively. And from a business owner’s perspective, provide peace of mind as we navigate staffing shortages, the need to work more efficiently and the imperative of lessening the divide between online and in-person shopping experiences that retailers are facing.

Recovery in action

That’s where Cisco and our technology steps in and why I’m so passionate about the impact we can make in the retail space.

Everything just mentioned – from staffing issues, to bridging online and in-person sales, to digitization and making both customers and employees feel informed, safe, and reassured that their experience is the best of the best – is led by Cisco solutions. We’ve already worked with high-end brands to digitize their entire product lifecycle process, including providing our experience and delivering a way for companies to perform product reviews with design teams, execute on visual assortment, fulfillment options, get easy visibility into inventory – at the end of the day delivering the best experience possible.

The technological possibilities don’t end there. We are already working with top retailers ready to invest in natural language processing capabilities and artificial intelligence to develop an employee engagement plan that puts employees first. By modernizing employee engagement they’ve built a culture of inclusivity, increased operational efficiencies, and improved employee retention.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Investing in new digital infrastructure can feel like a daunting undertaking, but it’s truly necessary to stay resilient and prepare for a sustainable business. Large, well-known retailers may be more easily able to foot the bill than small businesses. But, in an inclusive recovery, no one should be left behind.

Coming back to Kiva, that’s what my discussion with the organization’s leader Chris Tsakalakis will focus on during our Big Ideas Session here at NRF: Creating inclusive, equitable opportunities in retail and beyond. (Click through to see the full session description.)

Kiva is a non-profit micro-lender, giving money to low-income entrepreneurs in underserved communities. Their goal couldn’t be any closer to ours in powering an inclusive recovery. In just 15 years, Kiva has given nearly $1.5B in loans, to more than 3.5M borrows, more than 80% of which are women small business owners, in more than 75 different countries.

I’m so excited to share the stage with Kiva and Chris this afternoon to discuss how we’re working together to create inclusive, equitable opportunities for all retailers. It’s a future that you can be part of: Cisco is donating $25 dollars, up to $25,000, for every attendee who joins the session.

Together, we can power an inclusive recovery for everyone.

If you didn’t register for the show, view the session for free on the Cisco Newsroom:

Kiva and Cisco: Creating Inclusive, Equitable Opportunities in Retail and Beyond

How a powerful combination of technology and crowdfunding provide equitable access for all retailers.

The session takes place at 10:45 am PT / 1:45 pm ET on June 21, but will be available on demand.


This session is part of NRF Retail Converge, a continuation of Retail’s Big Show and another opportunity to bring together the industry’s leading entrepreneurs, researchers, technical experts, and visionaries from across the globe. The five-day virtual experience offers meaningful sessions on loss prevention, supply chain, security, operations, marketing, customer experience and much more.


Rachel Barger

Senior Vice President

Americas Sales