Think Your Small Biz Can’t Handle Curbside Pickup? Think Again, Says Microsoft

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Microsoft leverages its cloud analytics, services, and storage platforms to meet the specific needs of specific industries, including fintech, healthcare, nonprofits, and retail. The company announced this week at its Microsoft Ignite virtual conference.

In the latter case, Redmond previewed Microsoft Cloud for Retail, a sector where all aspects of business have changed massively in the past year.

“Retailers have had to adapt quickly over the past year, introduce new business models and work to protect their employees and customers,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in his keynote address. “Our new Microsoft Cloud for Retail brings together our platforms and tools to help the industry address some of its biggest challenges.”

Leverage petabytes of data at rest

Slide Microsoft Cloud for Retail Components
Image courtesy of Microsoft

According to Microsoft, retail stores generate 40 petabytes of data every hour, but most of that data is disorganized and the most common waste. With Microsoft Cloud for Retail, companies can supposedly take control of all this data and break it down for deeper customer insights. Microsoft believes that this should lead to a number of benefits, such as: B. sharper customer relationship management (CRM) and faster introduction of more complex fulfillment options. These include scenarios like roadside pickup or same day delivery, which have gone from being optional luxuries to being essential features for thousands of retailers.

“This data is not just about understanding your customers and where your customers are going, it’s about creating new monetization and new business models,” said Shelley Bransten, Microsoft global corporate VP for retail and consumer products. Microsoft Cloud for Retail is designed to turn data into analytics. This can better inform the entire retail stack and includes not only direct customer interaction, but also targeted customer service, digital advertising, inventory management, loss and fraud prevention, and customer analytics.

Bransten noted that an important direction for Microsoft Cloud for Retail is to apply artificial intelligence (AI) to retailer’s data so that they can offer a much more personal experience to customers both online and in person. This can, for example, contribute to the fact that surface products that customers miss when shopping online may be missing. AI personalization also helps customers shop more efficiently based on their previous user behavior and real-time interactions with the store. While customers have already seen these features on major online retail websites, they are often highly proprietary systems specially designed by larger, resourceful retailers. Microsoft, which offers these features on a cloud subscription basis, will make them much more widely available, especially to businesses that may not have been able to afford them before.

Case in point: Fast and efficient pick-up from the roadside

Microsoft Cloud for retail functions
Image courtesy of Microsoft

A Microsoft Cloud for Retail demo at Ignite focused on roadside pickup. Before the pandemic, this model of customer interaction wasn’t a big draw for many, even most retailers. In less than a year it has become virtually mandatory and many companies have struggled to make this shift. Microsoft presented a quick and easy solution through Cloud for Retail that uses a combination of its various services, including Azure analytics and infrastructure, as well as customer-facing services such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Teams.

When these systems work together, a store manager can check their calendar that their store is expecting an increase in online orders from customers who choose to have roadside pickup. “The manager takes a look at her shift for the week and determines that she has enough staff to find and select items,” said Michael Griffiths, global head of industry solutions, retail at Microsoft. “Sales orders are displayed in the system and automatically forward tasks to employees who are on shift work as order pickers. The manager can mark the tasks as urgent and the order pickers prioritize the order and mark it as fulfilled.”

An email notifies customers that their order is ready. Once customers arrive at the retailer’s parking lot, they can click the “I’m Here” button on their notification email. The pickers are alerted and as soon as they see the customer, they deliver the order to the roadside. The entire solution is provided as a uniform cloud service. This means retailers can bypass most of the implementation process by simply signing up for a subscription.

The demo summarized the basic strategy for all vertical Microsoft cloud solutions, namely the bundling of the company’s various cloud solutions and technologies and their pre-configuration so that they directly target scenarios that are important for these industries. The company introduced similar services to the financial, healthcare and nonprofit sectors at Ignite. Interested retailers can sign up for the Microsoft Cloud for Retail private preview.

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