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Cisco stand at NRF 2014

Internet of Everything advances on retail

By Retail Technology | Friday January 24 2014

Retailers urged to embrace new network technology developments to capture more data-driven insight and create more immersive and connected customer experiences

Results of a new consumer survey suggesting the numbers of consumers using their mobile devices instore has doubled in the past year should serve as a wake-up call to retailers.

That’s according to Lisa Fretwell, senior director of consulting services for network technology giant Cisco, who caught up with as part of its round up of retail technology innovation presented at this year’s Retail Big Show held in New York earlier this month by the US National Retail Federation (NRF).

Cisco is urging retailers to connect up their operations more closely in order to connect with customers more often and effectively in response to the findings of its fourth annual study into shopping behaviour. Its online survey of over 1,000 US shoppers found 80% used the internet when they shop.  

In addition, a growing percentage of what Cisco calls “Über-Digital” shoppers regularly use their smartphones for their shopping decision-making both at home and while instore, nearly doubling to 18% of the sampled population compared to 11% last year

Roughly six in 10 (59%) of this tech-savvy group also reported that they regularly indulged in showrooming, where they researched products instore before purchasing online, providing further evidence that online sources exert a strong influence over ultimate purchasing decisions.

Responding to tech-savvy shoppers

Fretwell said retailers were only just beginning to respond to today’s more connected shoppers, who expect a more integrated online and instore shopping experience. “In today’s world of connected and fast retail, improved customer engagement as well as higher productivity and sales remain driving forces,” she commented.

“But we’re seeing further transition from basic connectivity in stores and online, through e-business and now, with immersive experiences, to the ‘Internet of Everything,’ which exploits the connections between people, process, data and things.” Fretwell explained how this ‘Internet’ supports connectivity from machine to machine (M2M), machines to people in terms of data and processes, and people to people for human and process interaction.

“The Internet of Everything is all about harnessing those connections that create value, where the sensing and connecting part of it is not so different as it is now,” she continued. “It’s about lighting up those so-called ‘dark assets,’ which are essentially anything you can put an IP [internet protocol] address on. It’s one abstraction layer, particularly around data, that allows for sensor and data analytics and event-based engineering.”

Retail missing out on added value

The Cisco research cites the suggestion made by industry experts that the use of Big Data, advanced analytics, and Internet of Everything (IoE) driven automation and process improvement could have added an additional $99 billion (£59.8bn) in value to the US retail industry alone in 2013.  

This is because retailers are “leaving value on the table,” Fretwell said. “Over 50% of the data being generated in a retailer’s store is not being captured and there are some big numbers around employee productivity and increased sales particularly. So tagging shopping trolleys can help understand customer flow around a store, for instance, and so reduce queuing times.”

Urging retailers to invest in their networks and see them as a layer of abstraction, she said they would become the foundation on which to build smarter analytic capabilities that harness the scalability of cloud computing to crunch Big Data in real time. 

“I talk about fog and ‘the Cloud,’” added Fretwell. “By investing in the [network] platform, at the fog layer the instore query becomes the filter, allowing you to then carry out real-time predictive analytics to identify previously unknown patterns and correlations you may never have seen before. And it’s the same on the operations side, where you’re going to have more process-driven capability to connect up data, in addition to increased miniaturisation and mobility benefits.”

Putting theory into practice

To practically illustrate its vision Cisco created a number of demonstrations of how retailers could better use connected devices to increase customer engagement. One used Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology – marketed as 'Bluetooth Smart,' which is the same that powers Apple’s iBeacon proximity sensing system – to track metrics like the average path of a shopping trolley around a store or cars entering the car park, where the network is sensor and analytics agnostic. 

Another demo involved broadcasting vouchers or coupons during television ads that are redeemable via the interactive options available with connected ‘smart TVs’. The coupon data is captured by the broadcaster and passed to the advertiser, while the coupon can be made available for download by the customer online or to a mobile app.

The company was also showing its latest ‘smart locker’ system, which has been designed to offer customers the option of self-service click & collect. Using solid state disk (SSD), thin client hardware to power a 22-inch digital touchscreen and integrated card reader and printer on the front of the locker bank, this connected piece of kit provides additional advertising opportunities as well as touch-to-talk capabilities, so customers in need of assistance can contact someone.

Fretwell concluded: “The Internet of Everything has changed what retailers can do to better understand and connect with their customers, and how much it costs. But they need to get started now so their transformations can be faster.”

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