Technology Record - Issue 27: Winter 2022

168 I NT E R V I EW The epitome of resilient retail Microsoft’s Sue McMahon and Blue Yonder’s Erin Halka discuss the new, omnichannel retail landscape and why brands must leverage AI to meet customers’ expectations and supply chain demands BY E L LY YAT E S - ROB E R T S 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 “ Inventory visibility is a key way for brands to drive conversion from online browsing to in-store purchasing” ERIN HALKA, BLUE YONDER