January 12, 2011, 12:23 PM

Retailers should bring the web inside stores, Cisco says

The vendor sees profit in offering self-checkout and in-store product recommendations.

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Bringing e-commerce shopping features inside bricks-and-mortar stores could increase revenues for retailers, suggests a report released this week by Cisco Systems Inc., which sells networking and communications technology. That’s because shoppers are becoming more accustomed to using home computers and smartphones to find the right products at the lowest prices, tendencies that retailers can take advantage of to drive sales inside stores.

“Retailers must respond to technology-savvy consumers by combining web-like and in-store shopping experiences to create ‘mashops’ in order to drive growth and build brand awareness,” Cisco says, using a buzzword designed to suggest a mash-up of virtual and physical worlds. “A ‘mashop’ shopping experience combines the best of the physical and virtual worlds, allowing shoppers to receive the information and convenience of a web-based experience while at the same time being able to touch, feel and see the products they want to buy.”

The potential stems from shoppers’ preferences, as measured by a Cisco survey of 1,000 U.S. and U.K. consumers. 63% of respondents say they use technology to find the lowest prices, while 26% use technology to find the best product selections. And a hefty 60% of respondents say they consider product recommendations from friends and relatives as the most important information source for shopping. Additionally, the survey data suggests that most shoppers prefer to research products online rather than converse with store employees.

Such findings could lead one to conclude that the physical shopping experience is as relevant for some shoppers as making a call from a phone booth. But Cisco offers a contrary view, urging retailers to beef up in-store technology so that modern consumers can have web-like experiences within the aisles of big-box and other types of retailers. For instance, retailers can deploy kiosks or touchscreens in stores to offer access to such information as peer reviews and recommendations, price comparisons or product demonstration videos. Those kiosks and touchscreens also could offer discounts, Cisco says, and enable consumers to check out and pay without the help of employees. Consumers like to control their own shopping experience, Cisco says, but they also like to touch and study products in person.  

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