By: Tracy Issel, General Manager, Worldwide Retail, Consumer Goods, Hospitality & Travel at Microsoft
At an event on Monday, October 20 Satya Nadella, CEO, and Scott Guthrie, Executive Vice President, Cloud and Enterprise Group, Microsoft, talked Microsoft’s approach for delivering the most complete cloud across every business, industry and geography, which is essential in retail. Taking advantage of the cloud is one of the main ways for retailers to compete in this digital revolution. The cloud is helping retailers innovate faster, determine the smartest competitive pricing, bring products to market faster, better influence purchasing behavior, offer distinct and personalized customer experiences, protect against losses, and provide employees with a better work environment. Offering a more personalized customer experience and bringing products to market faster are the two on this list where most retailers have a significant opportunity that they’re not taking advantage of today.
Kids these days … (and adults too) expect a personalized experience
Today’s shoppers don’t just want the shopping experience to be easy and seamless– they want it personalized and they want their products now. Every retailer is concerned with trying to create compelling experiences for their customers, across all channels. To do that, they need data and advanced analytics available on the cloud.
Pier 1 Imports, offering furniture and home décor in over 1,000 stores, recently adopted Microsoft Azure Machine Learning to help them predict what their customers might want to buy next. Working with Microsoft partner MAX451, they built an Azure ML solution that predicts what a customer’s future product preferences might be and how they might like to purchase and receive these products. (You can watch a video here about how Pier 1 is making this transition, all part of its Omni-channel strategy.) Pier 1 was also able to get its deployment up and running very quickly, which is very important in the world of retail.
For retailers that prefer to use prebuilt predictive and analytic models, the Azure Marketplace provides them with a set of application programing interfaces (API’s) that can be implemented into the back-end-systems to gather information like recommendations, inventory forecasting, and market basket analysis. This list of available API’s will continue to grow as data scientists make their models available through the marketplace.
Bringing products to market at Cloud speed
Bringing products to market quickly is essential when you’re wanting to keep up with customers’ demands. One Kings Lane understands the importance of being able to quickly understand customer preferences, and make changes to satisfy them. Using Yammer, staff can share their perspective across the company, connecting the front-line customer service team with management and sharing insights and trends. (A more detailed case study can be found here).
Retailers know, making the right offers at the right time with things like pricing, promotions and personalized shopping, and getting information from customer-facing people back to corporate headquarters, drive dramatically better decisions, and customer experiences.
The cloud makes that possible. Moving from proprietary data on premise, to the cloud for business insights, many retailers are becoming more competitive with the data they have. This new data from customers, GPS, social media, sensors, demographic information, weather, and traffic is growing at exponential rates (social data alone is growing by a terabyte a day), making the computing power of the cloud essential to host and analyze this vast quantity of data at such a great scale.
Cloud and optimized infrastructure
Beyond bringing personalization and products to market quickly, the benefits of the cloud are sky-high and can help retailers run more efficient businesses to compete in this global, digital economy. When retailers adopt a cloud infrastructure, they save money, become more efficient, and can scale what was not possible with an on premise datacenter.
Preeminent British designer Paul Smith has 14 different collections—produced in England and Italy—under the global Paul Smith brand. In addition to 17 shops in England, Paul Smith retail stores are found in fashion capitals around the world. They wanted to centralize and simplify administration, improve scalability, and build a better disaster recovery strategy without merely adding more servers. Working with risual, a Microsoft partner, Paul Smith began taking advantage of the latest virtualization, cloud computing, and data center management solutions. Today, Paul Smith runs a hybrid-cloud environment based on the Microsoft Azure platform. It has virtualized more than 80 percent of its servers, improved data center density by 200 percent providing a seamless digital experience for customers, and saved more than £840,000 (US$1.4 million) in IT costs in one year. It also reduced recovery time from 48 hours to 5 minutes for its mission-critical applications.
Why Microsoft’s cloud?
As customers expect the best shopping experience from retailers, retailers expect the best experience from vendors. Microsoft offers the most choice and flexibility in the cloud that gives retailers three important things: a hybrid environment that ensures our enterprise customers get the power of the cloud where they want it; hyper-scale infrastructure that gives customers the ability to reach the maximum number of their customers, realize incredible economic value and run the most challenging workloads; and enterprise grade experiences, ensuring our cloud meets critical security, reliability and availability needs.
We work with retailers on ways to establish an Omni-channel presence, use data to its full advantage and take advantage of the cloud to grow the business and save on money. It’s the most important competitive tool in the digital era.