How the Internet of Things Will Impact Retail Sooner Than You Think

In the popular sci-fi film Minority Report, there’s a scene where the main character, played by Tom Cruise, walks through a mall and is bombarded by personalized greetings from digital billboards and holographic retail offers based on his previous purchases.

When Minority Report hit theaters in 2002, we were carrying around black and white feature phones and pagers–the Motorola Razr was still two years away from being released. If companies wanted to gather mobile data on consumers, they lacked the tools (or the network) to do so.

Thirteen years later, targeted, data-driven advertising is a reality, and personalized retail recommendations (at least online) are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Neither have really crossed over into the in-store environment.

How close are we to that vision of the near future? And is getting there worth the cost and effort?

I recently debated those questions onstage at San Francisco Design Week, where I sat on a panel focused on how retailers will use the Internet of Things to improve customer engagement both in-store and online. I was joined by panelists Matt Allred from, Scott Amyx from Amyx+McKinsey, Mariel Vargas from and Kevin Weston from Float. Our moderator, Robert Burns Nixon, executive producer at the Retail Tech Summit, guided a wide-ranging discussion.


How do you define the Internet of Things/Internet of Everything in shopping?

The panelists had different definitions of IoT and IoE, based on their background, defining it as either:

  • A product or physical object that gives you information, knows you and reacts to you.
  • A networked device or object that gathers data or acts on data.
  • A body area network that connects to a connected home- or work environment, a wireless sensor network or wide-area ambient computing network.
  • Devices that are connected to the Internet that are either passive (data collectors) or active (they interact with the user).

What are the engagement opportunities for retailers who invest in IoT?

This was an area of some debate and disagreement, which made for entertaining discussion:

  • The Internet of Things can make things easy for consumers when it comes to shopping, such as the refrigerator telling me when it’s out of something, or that my shoes are wearing out. Many home electronics, such as televisions and home theater systems are already WiFi enabled; a WiFi-enabled refrigerator isn’t far off, from my point of view.
  • Inventory planning and returns for retailers, to improve production efficiencies and the demand-driven supply chain, allowing for just-in-time production and replenishment.
  • Miniaturization of sensors, to the point they can be embedded into consumer products to signal to the owner and the supply chain.
  • Consumers can get personalized experiences in the store (similar to the Minority Report example) through data collected by sensors and cameras.
  • Giving retailers the ability to measure the emotional impact of store displays through social media analytics and sensor data inside the store.
  • Addressing issues such as shopping cart abandonment in the physical store–which currently can only be done through embedded sensors.

What are retailers doing to address omnichannel and IoT?

  • A simple thing retailers can do today is making sure the merchandise buyers for their online and physical stores are the same, to maintain inventory consistency and efficiency.
  • Technology investments need to be made–either through a usage-based cloud model or through traditional licensing. Due to a retailer’s high volume of transactions, both models represent a significant investment.

What are the top challenges facing retailers in this space?

  • It’s difficult and expensive to get high-end network connectivity inside a retail store.
  • It’s expensive to produce omnichannel content (digital images, video and personalized messages).
  • There’s typically an inverse relationship with complexity–the easier that a retailer makes things for a consumer, the harder and more complex those technologies are to implement.
  • While retailers have steadily made investments and progress in online shopping and the supply chain, the technology powering in-store experiences hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years.
  • Retailers cannot afford to lag behind their peers; consumers dictate the pace of how stores and shopping will change.

Ultimately, it’s about overcoming the inertia of past practices and investing in technology that drives hard metrics: revenue-per-square-foot inside stores and better data leading to higher revenue online.

I’d like to thank the Retail Tech Summit for inviting me to speak on the panel, and my fellow panelists for a spirited and educational discussion. For more thoughts on IoT and to read posts from other Avaya executives on the subject, visit

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Avaya Oceana: Riding the Next Wave in Customer Experience

Earlier this month, the CFI Group, which issues the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index, issued the Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI). Here are some of the key findings:

  • The index shows a four-point decrease in customer satisfaction from 2015 to 2016, sliding to the lowest score in the nine-year history of the report.
  • Difficulties are driven by the ability (or lack of) to quickly and effectively solve customer issues: Only 52% of contacts were resolved on the first contact and a third could not successfully self-serve through the IVR system.
  • Millennials have higher expectations for service than those 45+ perhaps largely due to their sense of immediacy and highly digital, multi-modal nature.

Bottom line: The CCSI news isn’t good regarding contact centers’ ability to deliver an excellent experience. And that results in reduced revenues for your business as customers go elsewhere to satisfy their needs.

From our point of view … the timing couldn’t be better. Here’s why: Avaya Oceana just went generally available.

As long-time leaders in customer experience technologies, we know there are two critical points of opposition underlying the findings of the recent CCSI report. One is that consumer technologies and customer expectations change at an ever-increasing pace—even more so for millennials—your next generation of disposable income. This change is so rapid that some business technologies can be nearly obsolete before fully implemented. Second, because of this rapid pace of change, enterprises often hesitate to commit to new technologies that may disrupt a precariously-built, but functional operation—many of which resemble a Jenga stack whereby if one piece is touched the whole shebang comes tumbling down.

There’s a third factor that’s worth mentioning: traditional contact center technologies have been rigid, highly complex solutions, making changes to deployed systems difficult at best. Over time, what may be left as a result are ancient artifacts of routing patterns, complex integrations, and more that—at minimum—slow responses to potentially already frustrated customers.

Avaya Oceana to the rescue! Oceana simplifies that with a flexible, software-based solution that can negate those opposing forces. Suddenly, aligning customer needs and business strategies is as easy as drag and drop, so changes can be made without the traditional hold-your-breath-and-see-what-happens approach that causes migraines and drives significant resource requirements. The easy-to-use, self-adjusting system knows how—and in many cases, why—the customer is reaching out, managing proactive, self service and assisted service as a single thread.

Intelligence gleaned via Oceanalytics can be automatically applied and visually reported to those who need to know, who can also make immediate changes in the workflow pattern without esoteric programming requirements.

What’s more? Since Avaya Oceana is built on Avaya Breeze™ Platform, companies have massive flexibility to quickly customize their approach to customer experience—again with simplicity and ease through the development tools or pre-made Snap-ins from the Avaya Snapp Store.

The end game? To deliver the best experience possible every time in the course of a transaction or in the relationship overall.

While much of the magic of Oceana is behind the scenes, essentially, the solution enables companies to fully realize the omnichannel experience that many talk about and few truly deliver.

Experience is everything—Avaya Oceana enables proactive, persistent, contextual highly personalized experiences. The kind of experience even a millennial could love.

Watch the Avaya Oceana video.

Finally… A Contact Center for the Digital Era

Imagine interacting with a company—any company—via your preferred method whenever you want, whether making a phone call, using online chat, sending an SMS, or messaging via Facebook. And, you end up having exactly the experience you were expecting. No not another bad experience. Rather an exceptionally pleasant and good experience, that surprisingly takes less time than you originally anticipated. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

The reality is that traditional business communications have failed to keep pace with consumer-focused technological devices. As a result, customers’ expectations—while very high—are rarely met when interacting with a business. Customers know what a good technology experience looks like, sounds like. The simplicity, built-in intelligence and sophistication of today’s devices and apps have taught customers that it’s not difficult to have a simple and tailored experience. It’s not difficult to teach a computer to know who you are, what you prefer, what you like to listen to, watch, read, how you like to interact. If it’s not difficult, then why are customer experiences with companies so predictably bad?

It’s time to break the mold. It’s time to start a new customer experience wave that makes customers happy about doing business with a company, excited that a company values their time and loyalty. Let’s give companies the freedom to be innovative, proactive, independent and capable of operating in real time to meet the demands and needs of their customers and agents without fail.

Unlike their traditional predecessors, today’s technological systems and capabilities have finally caught up with digital customer expectations. We have arrived at a point in time where the digital brain of a machine and the reasoning mind of a human are aligned closer than ever. Look at IBM Watson, Amazon Alexa.

Now, all that’s needed is similar thinking and innovation applied to business communications. What’s needed is the re-invention of the contact center for the digital era.

Enter Avaya Oceana™

Oceana is a departure from traditional business communications, just as the smart device was a departure from the basic, voice-only flip phone. This is a contact center for the digital era. Companies today don’t want to risk losing customers as a result of a bad experience. They can’t afford it. Companies want a single solution with best-in-class flexibility that gives them the ability to:

  • Drive adoption of self-service channels by seamlessly linking these into the contact center to deliver an omnichannel multi-touch experience.
  • Make agents more efficient and more effective by enabling them to handle multiple parallel interactions using an integrated multi-media desktop.
  • Reduce call times through utilizing contextual knowledge of prior and in-progress interactions to streamline customer interactions.
  • Drive higher customer satisfaction / NPS by tailoring the engagement experience to address their business’s unique/specific customer needs.
  • Rapidly optimize and continuously improve how they engage with their customers by leveraging their system’s flexibility, openness and integration capabilities.

In turn, customers get the experiences they know modern-day technology is capable of providing. The sophisticated yet simple and intelligent experiences they have grown accustomed to having with their smart devices, tablets, laptops, digital televisions and other smart appliances. This is Oceana.

Avaya Is the Innovative Leader for the Digital Era

When we made the decision and accepted the challenge to lead the industry in re-inventing the contact center, we did not enter into this without careful thought and consideration … of everything. Leaving no stone unturned, we diligently looked at what our customers and our competitors’ customers are working with today. We uncovered more cobbled together, Frankenstein-esque systems than I ever thought existed. The complexity of processes and user experiences that companies unintentionally created by not keeping up with technology upgrades was amazing. Holding on to these older technologies today when all of these digital capabilities are available is similar to keeping a shelf full of CDs for your music. Eventually you realize that making the choice to go digital can transform your world for the better.

What we also learned was that if we were going to re-invent the contact center for the digital era, we had to think differently because digital technology and digital customers require different thinking. We challenged each other daily to think differently. That’s been the biggest challenge all along for companies struggling through digital transformations. But as Avaya learned with our own transformation, once you make the hard decisions, start thinking differently and get to the other side of the transformation, a whole new world of opportunity becomes available to you.

As Oscar Goldman used to say during a time when human-to-machine technology was something only Hollywood could dream up, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.” The truth is we finally do have the technology. We can rebuild the contact center. This is no longer a futuristic endeavor, this is now. In fact, let me rephrase that: we have rebuilt the contact center.

This is Oceana. This is the contact center for the digital era. This is the start of something new, the start of something big.

3 Predictions about The Future of Customer Experience

Sometimes I know what the fictional Rip Van Winkle must have felt like when he woke up from his 20-year slumber. It seems like only yesterday that we in the communications world were marveling at the benefits of integrating voice and data. Now it’s all about the multi-touch customer experience and mobile everything. The speed at which communications in general—and customer engagement specifically—are advancing is nothing short of astonishing.

This prompted some thinking around what the next few years might bring. So we gathered insights from a variety of Avaya customers, visionaries within our own organization, and industry analysts to piece together a picture of what the future of customer experience will be in, for example, 2025. A few key themes emerged:

The nature of service will change. In the future, we won’t be talking about a device or media type. It will be all about what smarter consumers expect as outcomes—it starts with WHAT they want to do, followed by HOW they want to take action. It’s all about a customer being able to initiate contact in any number of ways and seamlessly move from one action to the next, in pursuit of resolution, knowing that a business will instantly know who they are, what they purchased (or anticipate what they want to purchase), what previous interactions they’ve had, what the outcomes of those interactions were, and then respond or, better yet, proactively address their needs. Everything is integrated at the point of interaction for the particular desired outcome at that moment.

And, it’s not just smarter consumers. Because the customer of tomorrow has done their own research, attempted to fix their own issues, etc. they require smarter, better equipped and, frankly, happier customer service agents and experts. To meet customers’ increasing expectations for fast, effortless and personal service, employees need to be empowered, be more knowledgeable, have the right tools, and—this is a bit subtler—better motivation. Increasingly, employees expect better work-life balance, more flexible scheduling, the latitude to work from home and the freedom to use their own devices. All of this—on both the consumer and agent side of the equation—means having seamless, adaptable, integrated, and responsive contact center infrastructure and applications. Organizations will be required to have an even smarter enterprise.

Extreme analytics will power customer experience. What is Extreme Analytics? It is analytics driven by context, supported by workflow automation, working with machine learning, and feeding artificial intelligence, just as a start. These are what will be needed to drive highly customized personal experiences. Natural language processing with analytics running in the background will make consumers feel that they are receiving a unique personalized experience, even though they may talk voice-to-voice or face-to-face with anyone from the company. No matter what means—digital or otherwise—the customer uses to initiate contact, the technology will be in place to translate, interpret, understand behaviors, anticipates needs, even if it’s a first contact between the customer and the business. If a customer chooses to visit a store or other location in person, there are still means by which—using GPS, geo-targeting, Internet of Things and other technologies—a highly personalized experience can be sculpted in real time. It will no longer be a digital interface alone. It will be about enabling interaction and personalization no matter where a customer wants to conduct business.

Loyalty is dead. As the post-digital world unfolds, the only loyalty customers will have is to whoever can make it easiest for them to do what they need to do. It will no longer be cognizant or mindful loyalty. Instead—whether it’s retail, banking, cab service, travel, prescription drugs, whatever—tomorrow’s consumers will certainly derive some level of comfort from knowing they’ve interacted with a business before, but that won’t be enough to keep them coming back. The next company that comes along and makes it faster, easier and (maybe, but maybe not) cheaper will get their business.

Here, extreme analytics come into play again. Driving in-the-moment loyalty will require customer segmentation that goes far beyond age groups and other demographics and customer profiles. It will include behavior analysis and an up-to-the-minute understanding of what a customer is doing (or anticipating next) so their experience can be personalized. It doesn’t matter that I fit into a certain age bracket or that I am a platinum customer of this financial institution or of that hotel chain. I have different “care abouts,” and a company needs to know those about me so they can create “anticipatory engagement.” The company anticipates what a customer will need, perhaps even from adjacent industry analysis, which drives knowledge of next best action, and drives proactive outreach—product and service offers that meet an expectation that is only now materializing.

Are these themes the things dreams are made of? Absolutely not. Consumer expectations are already headed in the direction suggested above, as are the technologies that are beginning to enable those capabilities. It’s only a matter of time, the future is now.

Curious to hear more about how we envision the Future of Customer Experience? How are customer expectations changing in your business? I’d love to hear from you.