A look at what is attracting shoppers to stores and websites this holiday shopping season.

f the electronic commerce predictions of the late 1990s had come true, today's average 18-year-old may never have known what it was like to step in a store or participate in the whirl of Black Friday shopping as millions of Americans will this Friday.  By today, he or she would have a phone or computer permanently attached to their hand, and anything they would need or want would be ordered online and then delivered directly to them.  Who knows?  Maybe some products were going to be transported – like Star Trek.

But, we all know that has not come true. 

Well not entirely true. Some would say it appears smartphones have been surgically attached to the hands of many – especially 18 to 24 year olds.  And the fact is, retail has changed and will continue to, just in a much different way than many predicted.

That's because consumers have quickly realized that they want the best of both worlds.  They want the search, deal-finding and price comparison benefits of the Internet AND the in-store experience of touching, feeling and smelling what they are buying.  

And a recent Zogby Analytics Study commissioned by Cisco tells us that consumers are ready to take it one step further. This poll identified an emerging class of tech-savvy shoppers – nearly half of all Americans – who are overwhelmingly looking for ways to use smartphones and the Internet to save time and money.   No surprise there, but what is surprising is that they want these online services available – not from the comforts of their virtual surroundings – but while they're shopping in stores.

More than 90 percent of tech-savvy shoppers find it valuable when stores offer free Wi-Fi, apps for smartphones, the ability to order out-of-stock items while in a store, and digital couponing.  And perhaps most importantly – retailers listen up – over 60 percent of these shoppers said they would be more likely to visit or shop at a store that offers smartphone apps and other in-store online services.  And these shoppers have money to spend, with almost 30 percent in households earning more than $100K per year.

Shoppers between the ages of 18 and 24 represent the savviest of the tech-savvy.  Eighty percent of this group own a smartphone, yet more than 75 percent plan on doing the majority of shopping in retail stores.  And right now, retailers are missing an opportunity to connect with this coveted demographic of shoppers.  Only 29 percent of young consumers have used a retailer's app on their smartphone with 40 percent reporting that they didn't even know that retailer smartphone apps existed.

This is the opportunity that successful retailers will take and grab. 

And it's quite an opportunity.  Earlier this year, Cisco research found that U.S. retailers have the ability to grow profits by more than $460 billion over the next 10 years if they Internet-enable nearly every aspect of their business – from manufacturing to supply chain to marketing and sales – to improve operations, efficiency and customer service. We call this $460 billion opportunity the Internet of Everything (IoE).

Investing in connected technology must not be thought of as an operating expense – it is a revenue generator.  Retailers who make investments in advanced technologies will be rewarded with increased sales and consumer loyalty from todays' tech-savvy shoppers of all ages.  The rewards may be greatest from a young generation of shoppers who may not behave as we had initially predicted but may spend more money and be more profitable that we could have ever imagined.