As retailers head to the National Retail Federation Annual Convention and EXPO this year, most, I’m sure, have already heard the forecasts for continued slow growth in 2013.
As one industry professional put it: Growth will be “challenging” and underlying economic conditions “uncertain.” Overall, Moody’s predicts that real U.S. growth domestic product will grow by a sluggish 2 percent in 2013, roughly the same pace as in 2012.
To remain competitive in this environment, retail companies need to do everything in their power to cut costs, maximize employee productivity, and strengthen customer service.
Office 365: The Sure Advantage
Since the introduction of Office 365, a broad range of retailers have selected Microsoft’s cloud-based software for just these reasons. Retailers of all shapes and sizes are choosing Office 365 to give themselves a competitive edge over their peers–from department store owners to automobile retailers to companies selling electronics, groceries, or clothing.
Among the benefits they are reaping:
Improved employee communication and collaboration–Unlike competitive solutions like Google Apps, Microsoft enables companies to take a hybrid approach to the cloud, allowing them to continue leveraging their on-premise investments, while reaping the benefits of the cloud. By taking a hybrid approach, retailers have a cost-effective way of connecting their desk-less workers to the rest of the enterprise–improving communication and collaboration across the company.
Toyota Motor Corporation decided to implement Office 365 as part of a hybrid solution to better support mobile devices, reduce costs, and improve collaboration among employees. Says Shigeki Tomoyama, managing officer at Toyota: “We strongly believe that Microsoft has the most capable platform that delivers ease, excellence and efficiency required to provide the communication experience our employees expect.”
By choosing Office 365, retail companies also have access to SharePoint Online, a powerful platform for communicating and collaborating across the company.
Using SharePoint Online, for example, the Brazilian department store chain Lojas Renner has been able to collect comments from managers on upcoming collections. This, in turn, has increased employees' engagement with the brand, while also improving the company's products.
"By giving our managers a chance to influence our future collections, they gain a sense of ownership," says Leandro Balbinot, Chief Information Officer at Lojas Renner. "And it helps us better meet customer needs by incorporating input from the employees who work directly with them."
Better customer service–SharePoint also offers a powerful way for retailers to deliver top-level customer service. Because SharePoint serves as a searchable central repository for company information, retail workers can easily access the right information at the right time, answering customer questions on the spot. They can also connect with experts within the company, helping customers to quickly find answers to their most difficult questions.
For example, Tesco, one of the world’s largest retailers, plans to use Office 365 as a portal that enables employees, suppliers, and colleagues to engage with each other and deliver a great shopping experience. “Office 365 will enable us to be a fully connected organization that works closely together, proactively shares knowledge, motivates loyalty and retention of employees, and encourages better working practices to ensure that we create value for customers,”says Mike McNamara, Tesco’s chief information officer.
Likewise, electrical retailer Dixons Retail is planning to roll out Office 365 to its 20,000 employees across the UK, Ireland, Hong Kong, and the Czech Republic–with the goal of making it easier to contact individuals and circulate messages en-masse throughout the organization. To achieve this goal, the company plans to use cloud-based Office versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync to aid staff collaboration and support flexible working.
“It is crucial that we continue to be progressive in how we deliver service,” says Matt Horwood, the company’s IT director. “Office 365 will not only increase the amount of time that our staff can spend on the shop floor, but also arm them with the right information to serve customers effectively."
Improved accessibility for remote workers–A key benefit of Office 365 is that it can be accessed from any device with an Internet connection. And unlike Google Apps, which has limited offline functionality, employees using Office 365 can continue to be fully productive even when there’s no Internet access.
One retailer that rolled out Office 365 to improve remote worker access is luxury audio and video systems maker Bang & Olufsen. With about three-quarters of its 2,000 employees working remotely, the company needed a way for its staff to access email from any device including smartphones, remote PCs, and other mobile devices.
Says Ole Damsgaard, senior director of IT & Shared Service Centre at Bang & Olufsen: “It was easy to integrate Office 365 into our existing work environment and for our workers to start using it right away because they already know the tools. And now, everybody who has a smartphone can very easily access their emails and calendars.”
Hallmark Cards, the largest creator of greeting cards in the United States, also deployed Office 365 partly as a way to better integrate its 9,500 employees from around the world. “The decision to move to Office 365 is part of a broader strategy to provide an integrated, unified platform to increase productivity and connect our employees across the globe,” says Tony Marshall, director of Enterprise Architecture at Hallmark.
Reduced IT, training and travel costs–Office 365 can be a big money saver for retailers. Companies can reduce the capital cost of purchasing hardware and software while decreasing the administrative costs of maintaining an IT environment. Using Lync Online, they can reduce travel costs by making it possible to hold high-quality online meetings. And because Office 365 is based on the Office tools most employees are already familiar with, the need for training is minimal.
Among the retail companies that have reduced costs using Office 365 is fashion retailer Otto Japan. Since the company upgraded its email system to Exchange Online, officials estimate that administrative man-hours have decreased by approximately 30 percent. The company considered Google Apps but in the end chose Office 365. “Speed and ease of use were essential,” says Nobuhiko Kita of the information systems department at Otto Japan.
Similarly, the premier fashion designer BCBGMAXAZRIAGROUP adopted Office 365 to replace large capital purchases with a more manageable cost model. In doing so, BCBG can now add or delete subscriptions as needed and pay for what it uses on a monthly basis, without a large capital investment. What’s more, the company doesn’t have to support separate software for web conferencing or its almost 600 BlackBerry mobile devices, which will reduce its licensing and IT management costs.
“We can use Office 365 to build a roadmap to long-term cost savings instead of paying up to [US] $300,000 in up-front expenses,” says Kent Fuller, Director of IT Infrastructure Services.
By moving to Office 365, the global retailer Helly Hansen has been better able to connect its employees working across continents. Holding videoconferences via Lync Online, managers expect to reduce travel costs by 10 to 15 percent in 2013. “For the IT team, which is spread over five countries, being able to have all of our meetings online has been an amazing transformation,” says Sandy Abrahams, IT director at Helly Hansen. “Now that we can see each other and share our desktops, we can lead more productive meetings and benefit from closer relationships.”
Recognizing a Good Thing
As goes the retail industry, so goes the global economy. In the U.S. alone, for example, retailers operate more than 3.6 million establishments, and contribute $2.5 trillion to the gross domestic product.
Particularly in an environment in which growth is slow and competition is tight, choosing the right productivity software can make the difference between a retailer that thrives versus one that loses out to its competitors.
No wonder so many retailers are embracing Office 365 as their secret weapon. If anyone knows a great product when they see one, it’s the retail industry.
To learn more, please see “Retailers Weather Economic Storms in the Cloud with Office 365” blog post.