When I was growing up in a blue-collar town in the U.S. Midwest, it seemed like everyone got a job when they turned 16. Little did I know when I donned the red IGA apron (with coordinating skinny leather tie) for the first time that I’d spend the next six years working at that store. In those early days, a job for me was all about earning money for the things my teenage heart yearned for: a car, money for clothes, tickets to the local sock-hop (I’m not quite that old, but close) and, ultimately, putting myself through college. I didn’t realize it, but the six years I spent working for a family-owned grocery store in my Michigan hometown would become an important part of my personal history, help establish my professional work ethic, and provide an inventory-management touchstone in my technological adult life.

I think about my experiences in that grocery store today, for example, as I head to NRF 2020, the retail industry’s largest conference and expo. My work now is focused on small and growing businesses of all types, but retail remains special to me. While it’s true to say that many of the retailers who will visit NRF 2020 are the “big guys,” retailers of all sizes and types can benefit from the technology and innovation highlighted there. I’ll be in the Cisco booth, #3754, on level 3 at The Javits Center, and I’d love to meet you.

The network at the heart

When I tell people that my first-ever job was in retail, they nod. Most of us—regardless of where our career paths have taken us since—began by working in some sort of retail or hospitality business, where hours were long, margins were thin, and the customer was always right. At my local IGA, business was complex: there was a massive inventory to manage, products to merchandise, employees to track, building systems to control, and customers to satisfy. Even without the technical innovation retailers can now rely on, the IGA’s owners were able to do it all successfully—if not always simply—serving as an integral part of the community for decades.

Today, at even the smallest establishments, functions from inventory management to merchandising to loss prevention are streamlined on networks that manage these, and other, critical business processes. (This video shows how.) Thanks to wireless access, even customers are connected while they shop, presenting retailers with exciting new ways to connect and share. The owner of the IGA where I worked as a teen couldn’t have imagined the ways network access provided to shoppers has enhanced the customer buying experience, like at a furniture store owned by a friend of mine. He’s learned that his customers need to experience his furniture before they commit to a purchase. They want to lounge on the sofas, recline in the chairs, or pull up to the dining tables—just as they would at home. His guest wireless network is wide open, so shoppers can text, check email, and surf the web (even for competitor pricing!) from the comfort of his furniture. He knows that this unique level of service makes a sale more likely, even when another store may offer a similar sofa for a little bit less.

Cisco retail solutions
Cisco portfolio for retail: What can we help you solve today?

The apps that make everything possible

Back in the day at the IGA, I took on virtually every job imaginable, from sweeping floors and chopping produce to wrangling carts and manning the cash register. The biggest technical disruptors to my work came in the form of scanners. I remember the first time I did inventory with an electronic device; sometimes that barcode scanner worked and sometimes it didn’t, but the potential it held for completing a very tedious task more quickly made every swipe worthwhile. Similarly, scanners at the cash registers promised to speed the checkout process for everyone, though in those early days, there were long-time clerks who could key faster than the scanner could scan.

Today’s technology does more than just scan an item and its price. New tools provide important sales data and offer valuable insight into customer shopping habits and buying trends in addition to inventory status and supply chain updates. Analytics ensure that we’re able to provide customers with product information quickly and reach out with offers on the items they care about. We can even check a shopper out wherever business takes us, from a holiday pop-up shop to a stall at a farmer’s market to the health and beauty isle of a busy store.

Security that keeps everything safe

Retailers lose about $50B a year due to shrink, which includes shoplifting, employee theft, administrative errors, and vendor fraud. At my hometown IGA, we relied on observant staff to catch would-be thieves, but often only realized the loss when inventory was counted. Recently, I worked with a retailer whose business spanned multiple locations. Shrinkage levels had escalated, and they’d been unable to track the loss. With a cloud security solution and video cameras installed at all exits, they were able to catch and prosecute the perpetrators, in this case, several of their own trusted employees. Prior to our first meeting, they believed that an effective video surveillance system was out of reach for a business of their size. They were happy to be proven wrong. (In this blog post, you’ll see how these same cameras can also offer critical data insights around shopper foot traffic, helping retailers improve their point-of-sale and merchandising strategies.)

Because small retailers often operate with small—or nonexistent—IT staffs, effective cybersecurity can seem out of reach too. Yet, small businesses are especially vulnerable; they’re the target of 62 percent of all cyberattacks—about 4000 per day. The right combination of firewalls, endpoint security, and cloud security curated for small business is the basis for a unified security system.

See you at NRF 2020

If you’re attending NRF 2020 next week (January 12 to 14), stop by the Cisco booth to say hello! (To see what we have planned, visit the event site or check out this post.) If we won’t meet at NRF 2020, I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments, below. In the meantime, you can learn more about all the Cisco Designed for Business solutions here, or in my last blog post.


Marc Monday

Vice President of Sales

Global Small Business