A few days from now, retailers from around the world will converge in New York for the National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show, the world’s largest retail conference. Every year, this event feels like a fresh beginning for retailers; just off their busiest time of year, they’re ready to not only celebrate but also reflect on what went well and improvements for next year. And every year, it feels like the stakes have never been higher – changing consumer demands combined with a retail model that’s constantly in flux creates an urgency to figure out what’s next.
I love coming to NRF. I joined Microsoft about five months ago, but I’m a retailer at heart. I literally grew up in retail, spending weekends at grocery stores with my dad rearranging coffee cans as part of our family business. Later I ran CRM and digital marketing for Gap Inc.’s brands. Now, I’m feeling even closer to retailers today than ever because I’m working for a company committed to building and maintaining retailers’ trust, working together to deliver intelligent solutions that help retailers delight shoppers, empower their employees, transform their supply chains and reimagine their businesses.
Given my retail background, I particularly appreciate Microsoft’s commitment to be a good partner by recognizing that retailers’ customers, employees and data belong to them. We want to put retailers in control of the pieces they need to make their businesses wildly successful for years to come.
So how is Microsoft delivering on that promise?
Bringing customer-first innovation to market
At Microsoft, we look to bring to market products and services that work seamlessly together to help retailers do more and take advantage of the latest technologies like AI, machine learning and IoT across the entire organization. Leading retailers are already using the Microsoft Cloud as a competitive differentiator, from using AI to create transformative customer and employee experiences, to embracing IoT to leverage their supply chains for maximum customer impact, to using cloud-based business applications to manage everything from the customer journey to operations. In an industry experiencing accelerating change, Microsoft and its partners are creating the solutions to help our customers keep up.
Empowering employees with the right tools is an area I think is especially ripe for innovation. For example, Firstline Workers, such as retail associates, are the first point of contact between a company and its customers or products, and are the lifeblood of the retail industry. They represent a retailer’s brand and need better access to resources and expertise to deliver great customer experiences and drive the bottom line. There’s also a huge opportunity to give these employees a more streamlined experience at work by modernizing some of the busy work that takes time away from customer service, such as scheduling and task management.
That is why I’m excited to announce new capabilities in Microsoft Teams for Firstline Workers. A new customizable mobile Teams experience makes it easy for them to connect with anyone in the organization and access just the apps and services they need while on the job. It includes features like the ability to share location and a smart camera. We are also announcing a new API to connect Teams to workforce management systems so employees no longer need to login to different systems, but can access everything in Teams as a hub for their workday. Finally, a new Praise tool makes it easy for managers and employees to recognize their peers and build a culture of teamwork.
Microsoft built all this innovation to help retail employees and other Firstline Workers get out of the backroom and onto the store floor, interacting with customers, creating great experiences and building loyalty. As always, it all comes back to the customer.
Putting our trusted business model to work for our customers
I’m proud to say retailers are already realizing the value in working with us and our partners to drive success. Just in the past few months, we’ve announced incredible partnerships with some of retail’s biggest names, including Starbucks, Walmart and – one that’s particularly close to my heart – Gap, Inc. And just this week, we announced a partnership with Kroger to power a new connected-experience store pilot and jointly bring digital solutions to market that will empower other retailers to transform their own operations and create their own amazing customer experiences.
For each of these customers, we’re bringing to bear our technology and our brightest retail minds to help them build a foundation for success in this ever-changing market.
We don’t just sell another commodity to retailers. Our superpower is bringing together our global network of partners to work side-by-side with retailers and understand their greatest challenges and opportunities. Together, we go beyond simply finding solutions – we’re redefining categories and establishing new business models. This is how we’re enabling intelligent retail – by offering the best-in-class solutions and industry expertise that’s helping retailers know their customers better, empower their people in new ways, deliver on an intelligent supply chain and reimagine retail.
I’m excited to highlight many other retail brands in our booth at NRF that are working with Microsoft and our partners to embrace intelligent retail:
- On the heels of this week’s news, I’m excited to showcase Kroger’s Microsoft Azure-powered Retail as a Service (RaaS) offering to NRF attendees. The solutions are not only enabling Kroger to transform the grocery experience for its customers with a personalized guided shopping experience, but are also opening a completely new revenue stream for Kroger, as they partner with us to market the solutions to other retailers. Centered around Kroger’s EDGE Shelf, which uses digital displays instead of traditional paper tags to indicate everything from prices and promotions to nutritional and dietary information, RaaS connects the shelf to the company’s Scan, Bag, Go® to create a unique guided shopping experience for customers.
- Starbucks is using Azure Sphere within select equipment to enable its partners (employees) more opportunity to engage with customers. This includes everything from beverage consistency, waste reduction, the management of energy consumption and predictive maintenance.
- Arts and crafts supply store Michaels is working with Microsoft partner TokyWoky to identify potential ambassadors online and leverage their knowledge and expertise to build a digital community of makers. Using Microsoft Azure, Azure AI and Power BI, TokyWoky’s 24/7 chat technology helps retailers like Michaels provide their customers with a human, personalized experience that’s not restricted by the size of its customer service workforce. TokyWoky’s platform encourages customers to assist and answer questions from other customers, all within the Michaels site, resulting in four- to six-times more questions being answered than before. The solution also creates continuous user-generated content across michaels.com, which helps to drive trust and conversion.
- Goodwill of Central and Northern Arizona (GCNA) partnered with DXC Technology to implement Microsoft Dynamics 365 as its retail management and Point of Sale (POS) solution. DXC’s Dynamics-based solution enables GCNA to collect detailed information on the items it sells. This is combined with category detail on items its stores produce from donated goods (collected from a GCNA proprietary and custom application) to maximize revenue. This is especially important for GCNA, whose revenue directly funds its mission – to empower individuals, strengthen families, and build stronger communities, and move towards its vision – to end poverty through the power of work.
- Italian luxury lifestyle brand Stefano Ricci is using partner SBSoft’s Dynamics-based CRM4Retail solution to give employees a high-level view of information to help them provide the white-glove experience its shoppers expect. Online, the database produces recommendations based on how customers are navigating the website. The application for stores helps retail employees understand and anticipate customer needs and answer customer questions in a matter of seconds. It also assists in the development of targeted, data-driven campaigns and promotions.
- Wine and liquor store BevMo! has partnered with Fellow Inc. to use its Fellow Robots to connect supply chain efficiency with customer delight. Delivered using Power BI and powered by Microsoft Azure, Azure AI and Azure Machine Learning, the robot provides perfect product location using image recognition and utilizes suggestive selling to offer customers different types of products and integrate point of sale interactions. A new integration point from Fellow to the “My Retailer app” of each retailer helps customers locate their favorite items in the store and suggests other items the customer may like. BevMo! is also using Microsoft’s intelligent cloud solutions to empower its store associates for better customer service.
- Retailers such as children’s clothing brand Polarn O Pyret is turning to the Unified Commerce Alliance(UCA) solution – powered by Azure AI and data platform and Dynamics 365 for Retail, in addition to partner-driven solutions from Avensia Storefront, Episerver and InRiver PIM – to help them reimagine retail by joining and sharing data and business logic from different systems and channels through a single, secure and scalable system in the Azure cloud. The UCA cloud solution provides one source of truth across all retail functionality – POS, pricing, campaign, stock and warehouse management. This one-stop shop provides everything a retailer needs to manage all digital store experiences, online and offline.
Connect with us at NRF
Microsoft will have a big presence at NRF – including 20 solution demos in our booth, sessions led by our retail experts and tours of our own Microsoft Store to show how Microsoft runs on Microsoft – and if you plan to be there, come see us! Visit us in booth #3301 to experience for yourself the solutions and customer stories I mention above, or attend one of our sessions on the show floor – I’m leading a Big Ideas session where I’ll talk about what we learned over the holiday season and chat with retailers you know and love about how they’re working with Microsoft to create amazing experiences for their customers. In addition, myself and my colleague Alysa Taylor, Corporate Vice President for Business Applications and Industry Marketing, will be one of several “women rocking retail” to participate in The Girls’ Lounge at NRF (Microsoft is also a sponsor!) And don’t miss Chris Capossela, our Chief Marketing Officer, as he leads a session on Tuesday highlighting the importance of brand. And of course, you can visit Microsoft’s NRF page to keep up to date on the latest news developments.
Despite retail’s breakneck rate of change, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a retailer. I’m excited to be a part of it, bringing Microsoft’s solutions and trusted business model to my retail colleagues around the world. And I’m here to tell every retailer: if we don’t have a solution for your business, we – along with our hundreds of global partners – will build it for you. I can’t wait to see what we’ll create together.