Retailers are boosting the bottom line with the cloud

Retailers are boosting the bottom line with the cloud


New cloud-based tools are helping retailers to become more profitable by improving the customer experience and making their store operations more efficient

Alice Chambers |

There are two primary angles of attack for any business that is striving to maximise their profitability: increase sales or reduce costs. For retailers, sales can be increased by improving the shopping experience and making sure inventory is available.  

Costs can be reduced by improving the efficiency of their operations, and in particular, one of their key assets: staff. Microsoft has designed its industry cloud solutions to help customers achieve such financial objectives. 

“Microsoft Cloud for Retail is designed to support resilient retail by providing retailers with the tools and insights they need to quickly adjust to changing conditions and seize new opportunities,” says Martin Kostal, general manager for Microsoft Cloud for Retail. “Retailers are looking to accelerate their digital capabilities to give consumers what they want and show store associates that they are the most valuable asset.” 

Microsoft Cloud for Retail includes a Smart Store Analytics solution that is designed to help retailers make good decisions about the store experience based on their customer data. 

“Smart Store Analytics gives retailers analytics and insights to make sense of their data and grow their business,” says Kostal. “Store managers can assess the number of items moving from shelf to cart – monitoring window shopper data against paying customer data and determining how quickly customers check out while maintaining individual customer privacy. Additionally, the shopper heatmap helps managers understand which aisles are highly trafficked versus not. This way the store can avoid putting products that need clearing in the dead zone areas.  

“Changes to complementary product placement, ordering frequency, and promotional opportunities can also be made based on the recommendations provided by the artificial intelligence model. The ability to provide insights allows retailers to adjust their operations to improve customer experience. This can help to reduce wait times for customers, improve product placement, and optimise staffing levels.” 

For Polish convenience store chain Żabka, Microsoft Cloud for Retail is essential for its Nano store branches, where customers have a walk in, walk out approach to shopping – with no clerks and no checkout. Żabka is also using camera and sensor technology from solution provider AiFi to collect data by tracking customer behaviour and product selection.  

The retailer can manage its supply chain in real time to react quickly when products are low in stock and predict replenishment requirements. 

“Going to our stores should be as easy, as quick, as enjoyable as opening the fridge – something you do every day,” says Paweł Grabowski, head of unmanned solutions at Żabka Future. As a result, customers are more loyal and foot traffic increases. 

 “Fusing AiFi’s rich shopper interaction data with Microsoft Retail AI models can help store operators make data-driven decisions in areas such as store layout, product catalogue, shelf placement, and shelf inventory optimisation,” says Kostal. “Together, AiFi, Microsoft, and Żabka will help customers continuously enhance the end-user experience.” 

Profitability can be boosted by improving employee efficiency, too. 

“Empowering store associates with the right tools, data, and insights can increase conversion rates and customer satisfaction,” says Shelly Bransten, corporate vice president of worldwide retail and consumer goods industry. “And as in-store shopping continues to come back strong, many retailers are making it a priority to empower their store associates with the technology needed to complete an increasingly complex set of tasks. 

“Microsoft Cloud for Retail Store Operations Assist equips store associates to better serve and engage customers and be more productive by providing a single pane of glass with access to all the operational day-to-day activities – from kerbside fulfilment to customer service scenarios – in the physical store. This application also allows store leadership to manage these operational store activities with dashboard-based analytics and insights.” 

For instance, rather than working with information that is poorly documented, such as on paper records or through verbal communication, Store Operations Assist allows retail workers to view all their top priority tasks in one place. They can also collaborate with peers and access information to assist customers easily.  

“With Store Operations Assist, store associates can be more productive with the ability to conduct typical business processes such as inventory counts, stock audits, store walks, shift change checks, incident reporting, and safety audits—from their own or store-provided tablet or mobile devices,” adds Kostal. “Store managers can digitally review and provide feedback, support associates, and see their store’s performance in real-time from anywhere.” 

Microsoft is continuing to work with its partner network to optimise customer experiences and maximise revenue opportunities.  

“We are excited about the continued work dozens of our partners are creating for retailers,” adds Kostal. Some of these partners include Accenture and Avanade, which are delivering AI-powered insights with ai.RETAIL, as well as technology services providers Mazars and Wipro that are helping to empower retail and CPG clients with Microsoft Cloud for Retail and providing shoppers access to inventories from across stores, warehouses and popup facilities respectively.  

“With our global partner ecosystem, we continue to strengthen our industry offerings and offer customers a network of trusted partners who build solutions tailored to their specific industry needs,” says Kostal. 

Doing more with less to increase profits 

“Mazars is helping retail and CPG clients with Microsoft Cloud for Retail to deliver personalised customer experiences across all channels, from online to in-store,” says John Accardi, principle and Microsoft practice leader at Mazars. “We support our clients through the tough economic climate by helping them do more with less. By leveraging and configuring standard features that exist today in legacy systems, our systems integration specialists help to maximise Microsoft Cloud platform features.   

“Mazars looks at ways to increase customer satisfaction, grow customer sales, as well as improve employee efficiency and effectiveness – leveraging the strength of Microsoft with the skills and knowledge of our consultants.”  

This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription

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