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Consumer digital experiences stoked by infrastructure advancements

From 5G to the Internet of Things to AI and edge computing, the infrastructure is now up to the task of boosting consumer digital experience.

Today, consumers expect and demand a high bar from their retail experiences.

In the past, companies competed for customer loyalty through product quality and price discounts. While this remains true, technology capabilities have upped the ante on customer interactions. Today, consumers look for digital experiences that are immediate, personalized and seamless—whether they occur in the physical or virtual retail worlds.

Indeed, consumers are more discriminating than ever. According to the Salesforce report “State of the Connected Consumer,” 67% of consumers say their standards for good customer experiences are higher than ever; and 76% expect a company to understand their needs. And according to research by Cisco, 76% of consumers buy more from companies that make it easy to do business with them.

These kinds of connected consumer digital experiences enable consumers to browse, buy and engage in experiences whether they are in a store or online. But these kinds of experiences are bandwidth-heavy, immersive and data-rich; they take a good deal of compute resources to take place—and happen quickly. Thus, underlying these experiences and actions is a convergence of technologies—connected devices, intelligent software and new network architectures—that provide the foundation for what the industry now dubs connected digital experiences.

Let’s take a closer look at how this convergence comes together and creates new experiences.

New technologies bring new customer connectivity

The ability to design a kitchen with virtual reality or to track a package from purchase to delivery takes various capabilities. Actions, which happen in real-time, are fueled by infrastructure technologies, including 5G, edge computing, Internet of Things (IoT)-connected devices and other smart mobile devices, as well as intelligent applications.

The way these technologies work together forms the backbone of these experiences. They allow consumers to have faster, richer and more immersive experiences—often as they are on the go and using mobile devices and apps.

The convergence involves these technologies:

  • The massive volume of users, devices and data places a strain on existing mobile connectivity. 5G will enable faster connection speeds and lower latency. 5G will also support better density and capacity as the volume of devices proliferates in high-density areas.
  • Edge computing alleviates some of the strain generated by this convergence of devices, data and users. This new architecture brings compute resources to users and devices without requiring a round trip to the cloud or a centralized data center. Edge computing helps power devices and bandwidth-heavy applications such as video, virtual reality and voice-activated apps. It may also enable formerly “dumb” devices to become smarter, enlisting intelligent capabilities that reside on the device itself rather than in the cloud.
  •  IoT-connected sensors work in concert with mobile devices and edge computing to produce new experiences. IoT-enabled devices combined with edge computing enable customers to get information in real time and bring insights to bear in these experiences.

Bridging the digital-analog divide

Another aspect of connected consumers is the ability to bridge the gap between physical and digital experiences. In the past, companies have struggled to connect the dots when consumers browsed or purchased online, then came into the store for further action. Today that gap is closing.

Shoppers may spot items at a store and then make product comparisons and a purchase online. Digital promotions from national brands might bring shoppers into physical stores, where they can redeem discounts on their own devices or through in-store kiosks.

Combining location, machine learning and connectivity to bridge the digital-analog divide gives consumers power in each world as well as the ability to move seamlessly between the two. Ultimately, consumers aren’t just purchasing products; they are engaged in particular, context-driven experiences.

Narrowing the gap between consumer digital experiences and physical ones brings opportunities for retailers to upsell and cross-sell as well as to gather data about consumer behavior, helping to deepen those relationships in the future.

Bridging the digital-analog divide is all the more important because physical sales aren’t dead. Brick-and-mortar stores still account for about 90% of retail sales in the U.S. and an even larger percentage globally. And, while growing at an impressive clip of 15% in 2016, e-commerce sales are not the only available growth opportunity. Shopping should ideally blend in-person activities and digitized touch-points.

With timely insights, both retailers and customers can sense and respond to one another. Through this digitized awareness, they can mutually reinforce buying and selling experiences.

Contextual engagement

Using analytics, marketing offers and other technologies, retailers can understand customer behavior and begin to tailor their interactions with consumers based on this knowledge. This gives retailers the opportunity not only to upsell and cross-sell but also forge longer-term relationships with consumers. One-off interactions become legacy retailing.

With this kind of contextual engagement, customers signal what they want through browsing and shopping behaviors, then retailers tailor offers about things to buy. When it comes to digital retailing, firms continue to wrestle with the best ways to deliver just the right information to targeted customer segments. Too many offers can overwhelm and turn off consumers; with too few, consumers may not form a substantial relationship that keeps them returning. This careful balance of interactions is the new key to creating moments of opportunity for companies and for consumers.

Real-time alerts and just-in-time promotions help to capture opportunities and rely on personalization capabilities—precisely targeted information about a consumer’s buying profile and intent. Personalization means understanding a customer’s buying habits and future intentions.

Google has dubbed the fleeting moments of interaction among users, devices and digital environments as “micromoments.” They are glimmers of opportunity to deliver quickly consumable information to reach customers and targeted audiences in the moment.

Data analytics and personalization at scale

Personalization is also key to marketing success with consumers. According to, the “2017 State of People-Based Measurement Report,” 72% of respondents indicate personalization will help to optimize customer and prospect insights and improve consumer experiences.

Customer data analytics will also be fueled by edge computing and connected devices. Consider how a retail associate can roam the aisles, tablet in hand, and help customers find alternate styles or product SKUs or upsell based on the customer’s previous purchases. These data-intensive experiences need to be fast, frictionless and intuitive to work for sales associates and customers. The convergence of edge computing, data analytics and connected devices enables this kind of immersive, in-the-moment experience.

At the same time, personalized customer experiences are still a work in progress.

Digitally savvy retailers face a data tsunami in search of insight and meaning. Embedded telemetry in the network provides breadth and depth of data about the user, device, location and application. Big data analytics together with advanced modeling transform raw data into actionable insights and drive the time-to-value for customer experiences.

Despite the promise of personalization, eight out of 10 respondents to the "2017 State of People-Based Measurement Report" indicate that they haven’t built personalization into their operations. Obstacles to building personalization include bringing disparate sources of data together (49%), the limitations of online sales data (42%), and confusion about how to get started (42%).

The virtuous cycle of digital retailing stoked by infrastructure

There is a virtuous cycle to digital retailing. The more digitally savvy retailers know about their customers, the better they can engage with them and transform shoppers into buyers.

But for this cycle to be in the moment, insightful and successful, it must be powered by a series of infrastructure-based technologies. Technologies such as 5G, IoT, AI and edge computing rapidly bring contextual data to consumers and companies at the right time to spur action. While these infrastructure developments will require several years to fully take shape, the future is clear and the evolution should begin now.

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Lauren Horwitz

Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”

Geoffrey Bock

Geoffrey Bock, principal of Bock & Company, focuses on strategies for content management, mobility, AI, collaboration, and digital transformation. He advises enterprises on strategies to shape customer experiences and drive revenue. Bock has authored numerous in-depth reports on the business impacts of content and collaboration technologies.