One of the major challenges facing retailers today is the lack of a holistic data estate, according to Sue McMahon, director of worldwide retail and consumer goods partner strategy at Microsoft.
With so many touchpoints now available to consumers – from e-commerce to brick and mortar – it is crucial for retailers to capture and aggregate data about their consumers at every turn, in order to curate the best customer experience.
“Microsoft’s mission is to help retailers achieve more,” says McMahon. “We help our retail customers to unify their consumer and operational data that resides in disparate applications and enrich it with additional data sources to provide democratised data access across organisational silos, all with the goal of making more informed decisions faster.”
McMahon believes that this effort is epitomised by Microsoft’s partnership with supply chain and omnichannel commerce solution provider Blue Yonder. “Using our cloud-scale platform, Blue Yonder leverages machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence to generate more than one billion sales forecasts daily to power global supply chains,” she says.
For example, the partnership has helped a major UK grocer to reduce shelf gaps by 30 per cent. It has also enabled the business to reduce surplus stock levels because they have a better understanding of customer demand. In addition, Microsoft and Blue Yonder enabled a pharmacy retailer that operates across the USA, Europe and Middle East to automate localised assortments across more than 9,000 locations. As a result, it was able to achieve 97 per cent planogram compliance to elevate the customer experience.
Customers continue to engage with brands in multiple ways, often beginning the purchase journey online even when they intend to buy in store. In fact, Forrester’s 2022 Digital-Influenced Retail Sales Forecast found that 59 per cent of customers start their buying journey online and one of their top reasons is for inventory visibility. As such, retailers must balance experiences across channels in order to ensure customer satisfaction. “Inventory visibility is a key way for brands to do this and drive conversion from online browsing to in-store purchasing,” says Erin Halka, senior director of solution strategy at Blue Yonder.
Delivering true inventory visibility may be easier said than done, though, particularly when a brand operates across multiple geographies. According to Halka, retailers need solutions that calculate real-time inventory across the network at an extremely granular level without the slightest performance delay in the online and in-store customer experience.
“In the past, this was a challenge to calculate at the store level because in-person customers would be making purchases in real time, thus affecting inventory figures,” she explains. “Real-time inventory – balanced with predicted demand, returns and stockouts – drives greater accuracy of what is available at that moment. Predicted demand for store and buy-online-pickup-in-store sales must consider sales velocity, trends and seasonality to produce accurate results. AI is key to this and enables retailers to predict capacity, aligning inventory with available resources and bandwidth to fulfill customer purchases and deliver to highly reliable inventory visibility.”
Halka highlights the value of the AI and ML capabilities built into Blue Yonder’s Order Management solution. “These tools are helping retailers enhance customer experiences by giving greater visibility and transparency while being able to keep their promises to customers, no matter where they choose to buy.”
The strategic partnership between Blue Yonder and Microsoft goes beyond order management and inventory analytics though. Blue Yonder’s workforce management platform is increasing accuracy and automating labour forecasting and schedule creation for some of the world’s largest retailers, including a chain with more than 10,000 locations and 200,000 employees around the world. “Our customers can use advanced data analytics to create more trusted schedules which benefits frontline workers and improves engagement and productivity,” says Halka. “Blue Yonder’s integration into Microsoft Teams empowers employees to view their schedule, and request shift swaps and time off, all through a modern mobile interface.”
Together, Microsoft and Blue Yonder are focused on transforming and enabling an evolved consumer experience that encompassed the entire customer journey, from online to the physical store. “The goal is to keep retail resilient and deliver a tailored experience each and every time,” says Halka.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.