This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.
Keith Mercier grew up in retail. He landed his first job at his local Gap store when he was just 17. That turned into a 27-year career, including roles as vice president of Gap.com for North America and general manager of Gap 1969 Jeans. He joined Microsoft in January 2019, responsible for commercialisation of the firm’s retail and consumer goods strategies and solutions.
Over the years, Mercier has witnessed remarkable changes in the retail industry. “Consumer expectations have grown to unprecedented levels, mainly driven by rapid technology adoption,” he says. “There has been an explosion of digital data that retailers can leverage to help better service their customers. However, their siloed systems and data becomes a huge barrier. New technologies such as cloud and artificial intelligence are important enablers, and retailers will need to adopt these in order to compete effectively.”
These changes are having a huge impact. “The idea of trying to ‘out-product’ the competition doesn’t work any longer – this is evidenced by the deep discounting we are seeing. Digital natives and disruptors are winning on experiences such as personalisation and convenience, putting the more traditional retailers at a disadvantage,” Mercier says.
Microsoft is positioned to help equip retailers to succeed in this new operating environment. “Our goal is to help our customers accelerate their businesses by leveraging Azure to unlock value in their data, so they are better able to compete,” Mercier explains. “This means driving down costs, gaining valued insights into their business and their customers, and truly transforming.”
Pioneers in the industry are recognising they need to change and are starting the journey now. Mercier points towards customers such as Walgreen’s, Kroger and Walmart, which are re-thinking what it means to be a modern-day retailer. “They are willing to make the necessary changes both technologically and culturally to better service their customers,” he says.
These leaders will transform further in the years to come – and the rest of the industry must follow if they want to succeed. “The ability to unlock insights in retail and consumer goods data at scale will become a competitive advantage,” Mercier says. “I see the blurring of lines between industries, such as commerce in the car, and retail and healthcare. And I really hope we see retailers and brands do their part in helping to solve the world’s most pressing problems around sustainability and impact, because the next generation consumer really cares about it.”
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