Technology Record - Issue 32: Spring 2024

What do customers want? It’s the question that all retail organisations ask when determining their business strategies. Throw an array of new technologies relating to data, artificial intelligence and the cloud into the mix, however, and retailers can quickly feel overwhelmed and unsure. According to Mike Edmonds, business strategy lead for worldwide retail, consumer goods and gaming at Microsoft, it is important to remain focused on the basics. “Although technology continues to change at an exponential rate, customer expectations remain consistent,” says Edmonds. “Customers want to engage with brands on their own terms, they expect to be remembered based on previous interactions, seek personalised experiences and want to become loyal to brands they trust.” Consumers enjoy both online and physical shopping, and their preferences shift depending on the purchase, occasion or location. For example, in 2023 internet sales made up 26.6 per cent of total retail sales in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics. Meanwhile, in the USA, internet sales accounted for 15.4 per cent total sales, according to the United States CensBureau. “What this really means is that customers demand flexibility from the brands that they interact with,” says Edmonds. “Online shopping will continue to grow in popularity and become more prevalent because it is convenient for the customer,” he explains. “But brands that understand how to bridge digital and physical touchpoints to deliver memorable retail experiences will continue to build deep, meaningful relationships with their customers and be more successful as a result.” Retail in the cloud The cloud is an important tool for bridging this gap between digital and physical touchpoints. “With data in the cloud, retailers have an opportunity to create the foundation for delivering frictionless, personalised experiences across touchpoints,” says Edmonds. “Retailers can create omnichannel profiles for every customer and continuously enrich this data with internal and external data sources to deliver insightful experiences that result in trust and loyalty.” Microsoft is helping retailers maximise what the cloud offers with Microsoft Cloud for Retail. At the NRF 2024 event, it revealed several new capabilities for the platform that are intended to make it easier for retailers to adopt and scale generative AI. These include Microsoft Copilot templates for personalised shopping and store operations on Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service, which allow retailers to create AI-powered experiences, such as personalised shopping suggestions for customers “ Although technology continues to change at an exponential rate, customer expectations remain consistent” 142 Data and AI tools in the cloud are helping retailers to transform conventional shopping experiences. Microsoft’s Mike Edmonds shares more on why it’s an exciting time to be in the industry BY AMBER HICKMAN FEATURE Commerce in the cloud