From the rise of e-commerce in the mid 1990s to the more recent use of mobile devices in stores to enhance store associate productivity and the personalisation of the shopping experience via artificial intelligence-powered data analytics, the retail industry has always been at the forefront of innovation.
New technologies combined with global event have pressured retailers to evolve even faster. Customers’ demands are constantly shifting, and today they want shopping experiences tailored to their preferences, wherever and whenever they want to shop. Meanwhile, marketing teams must constantly refine their approach to engage customers across new channels as they emerge.
How can retail businesses elevate the shopping experience and build loyalty with customers? The essential elements to building better shopping experiences lie in cloud technology. By embracing cloud platforms like Microsoft Azure, as well as solutions built to work within that infrastructure, retailers can optimise their operations, engineer superior customer experiences and ultimately drive profitability and growth.
“Customers’ demands are constantly shifting, and today they want shopping experiences tailored to their preferences, wherever and whenever they want to shop,” says Microsoft’s Ricardo Belmar
While e-commerce has been a pillar of the retail industry for decades, cloud technology will further elevate the shopping experience. Online shopping enables retail businesses to reach a wider variety of customers, but this also means that sudden fluctuations in demand can have a greater impact on their business.
By tapping into the power of the cloud, retailers can create secure, intuitive e-commerce platforms, attracting customers across geographies. Microsoft partner Sitecore, for example, is leveraging the speed, power and scale of Azure to provide retailers with customisable, headless e-commerce platforms that are built around their customers’ needs. Sitecore Experience Cloud enables firms to drive their digital transformation with the flexibility of the cloud and new capabilities in AI and machine learning.
In addition, retailers can optimise their inventory management and warehouse management systems thanks to comprehensive visibility and real-time data and analysis with Microsoft Dynamics 365, allowing them to fulfil customer orders quickly and prevent shortages or excessive volumes of unsold goods. Brands, manufacturers and retailers can learn about the benefits of Dynamics 365 enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management solutions through our Microsoft Cloud Solution Providers like Sunrise Technologies.
While e-commerce has experienced significant growth over the years, in-store shopping remains popular. According to Forrester’s US Online Retail Forecast, 2023 to 2028, an estimated 72 per cent of retail sales will still be taking place in physical stores in 2028. However, just because a store is physical doesn’t mean retailers can’t integrate new technologies to enhance the shopping experience. For example, Cooler Screens helps retailers to digitise their in-store experience and automate merchandising with its digital smart screens, which are powered by Azure. The screens provide additional product information for customers while also providing insight from advanced analytics and internet of things sensors to improve the on-shelf availability. The personalisation and advertising opportunities that retail media provides will translate to more revenue for retailers.
Retailers can use smart screens by Cooler Screens, powered by Azure, to enhance their in-store advertising (image credit: Cooler Screens)
Driving customer loyalty
Another way stores can utilise cloud technology is to collect data from multiple sources and transform it into business intelligence insights in real time, enabling faster and more informed decisions. By monitoring which parts of stores customers spend more time in, for example, managers can gain a real-time sense of how to arrange products to maximise sales. The Store Operations Analytics Suite by Microsoft partner Fractal Analytics uses video analytics powered by Azure to provide real-time insight into customer behaviour, including traffic counts, conversion rates and customer journey mapping. This enables retailers to understand their customers’ motivations and preferences for in-store displays and inventory management.
In addition, although customer demands evolve rapidly, one thing that is consistent today is that they want offers and experiences tailored to them. For marketing teams, this creates new challenges, as they must constantly collect data on customers and refine their profiles, as well as engage them on whatever channels they prefer, all while managing costs.
Leveraging the power of the cloud-based customer relationship management, retailers can create consistent omnichannel experiences, engaging customers not just in physical or online stores, but also through applications, emails, social media and other channels. Retailers can also tailor the volume of engagement to customers to ensure they do not drive them away by interacting too frequently. The ultimate result is that they can build greater enthusiasm for their products and drive customer loyalty, leading to long-term profitability.
Retailers can improve their online shopping experiences by adopting cloud-based omnichannel experiences
Protected and compliant
Cloud technology is improving cybersecurity and data governance for retailers. Retail businesses collect and process a variety of data about their customers, such as marketing data or payment information. This data is crucial to business operations, but it is also an attractive target for cybercriminals. If retailers don’t secure that data, it can be costly both in consumer trust and expenses. The average cost of a data breach is $4.45 million, according to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023.
Cloud-based security solutions can empower retailers to defend against cyberthreats and safeguard valuable data. With identity management and access control capabilities like those provided by Azure, retailers can overcome the challenges of increasingly vulnerable network perimeters. By adopting a zero-trust network access approach, retailers can control who can access specific resources within their organisation, as well as how they interact with them.
Beyond security, retailers face numerous challenges when it comes to storing, analysing, managing and governing data. Compliance risks are a notable concern here, but siloed data can also inhibit the swift, informed decision-making that is necessary to stay competitive in the retail industry. By utilising cloud technology, retailers can achieve comprehensive, unified visibility of all the data across their organisation and implement automated policies to ensure they meet their compliance obligations.
With customer demands always evolving, the businesses that remain competitive in the coming years will be those effectively using new technologies to elevate the shopping experience.
Learn more about how retailers can transform their business with cloud technologies with Microsoft and selected partners’ Resilient retail in an omnichannel world webinar series.
Ricardo Belmar is director of partner marketing for retail and consumer goods at Microsoft