In a world that’s changing in profound ways more rapidly than ever before, the retail business has faced an existential challenge from COVID-19, increasingly demanding consumers, ferocious competition from the online world and rising concerns over privacy and security.
And while technology is certainly playing a critical role in helping top retailers address those challenges, traditional approaches and solutions cannot generate the insights, acceleration and engagement required to deliver the superb customer experiences that are now the top priority for all retailers.
Over the past couple of years, Microsoft has put together an extraordinary list of major partnerships with most of the world’s leading retail companies precisely because Microsoft’s solutions and advanced technologies are able to put the customer at the center of the new omnichannel world.
“Gone are the days when retailers chose when, where and what to sell; now consumers are in the driver’s seat, and retailers need to figure how to best engage with them,” said Shelly Bransten, Microsoft corporate vice president for retail and consumer goods industries.
“In addition, they’re juggling the COVID-19 situation with broader industry pressures driven by industry trends such as sustainability in retail, the proliferation of data, increased energy around ‘anywhere commerce,’ the need to better equip store associates with technology and much more.”
In such times, digital transformation cannot be simply about operational efficiency. While that’s clearly important, the overarching imperative today is for retailers—and all businesses—to reimagine their businesses and their ability to dazzle customers with fabulous experiences.
For Microsoft, that means helping businesses “take control of their own digital evolution,” Bransten said.
“Our solutions enable retailers to transform across all parts of their business – from how they better understand their customers and empower employees, to putting the right technology in place to deliver an intelligent supply chain and ultimately reimagine their businesses.”
While that reimagination is far from uniform, the ultimate goal is the same: enabling customers to shop when they want, how they want, and with as much freedom and flexibility as possible. In this new world, it is no longer the retailer that sets the conditions and the boundaries—it’s the customer.
And many of Microsoft’s top retail customers are responding with some brilliant innovations.
The world’s largest retailer has expanded its partnership with Microsoft to include new cloud, AI and ML deployments to accelerate and enhance digital transformation, innovation, and how Walmart employees work. “Our commitment to technology is centered around creating incredibly convenient ways for customers to shop and empowering associates to do their best work,” said Doug McMillon, Walmart CEO. “Walmart is a people led, tech empowered company, and we’re excited about what this technology partnership will bring for our customers and associates. Whether it’s combined with our agile cloud platform or leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to work smarter, we believe Microsoft will be a strong partner in driving our ability to innovate even further and faster.”
Walgreens Boots Alliance
In partnership with Adobe and its Experience Management Cloud, Microsoft and Walgreens Boots Alliance have launched a “second phase” of digital transformation “at the intersection of health and technology” in partnership with Adobe and its Experience Management Cloud.
“At WBA, our mission is to deliver extraordinary experiences that enrich our customers’ lives,” said Vineet Mehra, global chief marketing officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance. “Capabilities to combine previously disparate customer data sets, including information from more than 100 million members of our loyalty programs, into more singular, unified view of the customer – powered by these modern technology platforms – will enable us to truly personalize our omnichannel healthcare and retail offering. This digital magic, coupled with the valued knowledge and quality of care provided by our pharmacists and team members, is what allows us to best serve our customers.”
A major element of this partnership between the largest grocery-store chain in the U.S. and Microsoft was the development of a “connected store” to create data-enriched shopping experiences. The Kroger engagement also underscores the commitment that corporate VP Bransten mentioned earlier in this article: helping businesses “take control of their digital evolutions.”
In alignment with the Restock Kroger Plan, Microsoft and Kroger work together to develop technologies to improve the grocery-customer shopping experience. In some cases, those are customer-facing technologies, such as the Digital Shelf EDGE, and in other cases they are technologies that help the store operate more efficiently and effectively.
Kroger associates want to ensure they are providing fresh foods for the customers in alignment with the the company’s “Fresh for Everyone” slogan. Microsoft also works with Kroger and other industry leaders to provide visibility and insights across the supply chain. The goal is to provide fresh produce while reducing time and waste in the supply chain.
Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said his company is “excited to collaborate with Microsoft to redefine grocery retail” and intends to build “a seamless ecosystem driven by data and technology to provide our customers with personalized food inspiration.”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the combination of Kroger’s “world-class expertise in the grocery industry with the power of Azure and Azure AI” will allow the two companies to “redefine the shopping experience for millions of customers at both Kroger and other retailers around the world, setting a new standard for innovation in the industry.”
This article is brought to you by Microsoft.