Technology Record - Issue 23: Winter 21/22

160 www. t e c h n o l o g y r e c o r d . c om F E ATUR E Reimagining retail Microsoft’s Shelley Bransten outlines how Microsoft Cloud for Retail and other innovations are empowering retailers to harness the power of data and reimagine the end-to-end shopping journey BY R E B E CCA G I B SON When the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in early 2020, it wreaked havoc on the retail industry as government-imposed lockdowns, travel restrictions and strict social distancing measures disrupted global supply chains and forced retailers to close their physical stores to keep customers and employees safe. While the virus is still causing widespread disruption, it has also acted as a major catalyst for adaptation, diversification and transformation in the global retail sector. “Covid-19 is the new chief innovation officer,” says Shelley Bransten, worldwide corporate vice president of retail and consumer goods industries at Microsoft. “Retailers are no longer asking us what the Covid playbook is, but how can we go faster? The new world of digital shopping is as much about the visual presentation of the product, assortment and quality of recommendations as it is about shipping speeds, fulfillment options and the ability to personalise items. And it’s clear that retailers who laid their digital tracks early have weathered the storm of the past two years much better than anybody else.” There have been many impressive examples of both digital transformation and innovation across the retail space. Walgreens Boots Alliance, for instance, has developed a virtual pharmacy consultation service via its app to enable pharmacists to remain connected to patients needing medical advice. Meanwhile, American sports equipment and clothing retailer REI partnered with Microsoft to create a new virtual outfitting service to help customers assemble bikes, find hiking boots and gear up for camping trips using Microsoft Teams. And, non-profit organisation National Chamber of Italian Fashion (Camera Della Moda Italiana) collaborated with Microsoft, Accenture and Optimizely to digitise Milan Fashion Week and host virtual cat walks, showrooms, sales campaigns and more. “All three examples showcase not only the power of digital but also the high-level of digital optimism in the industry,” says Bransten. “This optimism reflects how brands and retailers are looking for ways to innovate and future-proof their business models with the Microsoft Cloud. Whether that’s hybrid work, future of the store, landscapes