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Cloud to Edge for efficient, agile, and sustainable retail

Inlägg på 24 januari, 2023

Partner General Manager, Microsoft Azure IoT

Persistent volatility in the retail market is forcing businesses to re-evaluate how they address key challenges. Prebuilt, edge-to-cloud, retail-specific technology solutions can help retailers increase the value of their data, empower store associates, elevate customer shopping experiences, and enable real-time sustainable supply chains.

Many retailers leverage Microsoft Cloud partners to get more insights out of their data using Microsoft Azure coupled with edge technologies, Internet of Things (IoT), and AI. Together these can not only help manage daily operations, but can also create more efficient, agile, and sustainable retail stores and supply chains.

Addressing key retail challenges with Azure-optimized solutions

Every retailer faces four main challenges:

  1. Inventory and inventory optimization. From manufacturing to store, retailers need to have the right products on the shelves at the right time.
  2. Modernized customer experience. Customers expect more from the in-store experience than they did just a few years ago. They expect easy, convenient, and seamless interactions.
  3. Empowered frontline workers. Retailers need to empower frontline workers—the backbone of retail operations—with the right data and technology tools to help them make the best use of their time, be safe, and connect with customers.
  4. Loss Prevention. Managing and reducing theft, as well as supply chain losses, are constant challenges.

Data provides the mechanism to solve these challenges. However, that data is often stuck in legacy systems with archaic deployment and authoring environments. Azure makes it possible for retailers to perform large-scale analytics on data pulled from all areas of the enterprise, and then use retail-specific data models to take action. Microsoft partners have leveraged these models to build a wide range of solutions.

Maximize the value of data

Microsoft partner Ombori integrates data from in-store touch screens and voice-activated kiosks, as well as IoT devices like barcode scanners. This solution also gathers data from a customer’s cell phone or a store associate’s smartwatch, then uses the data to streamline the customer shopping experience and fine-tune strategic planning up the chain.

Another Microsoft partner, SES-imagotag, transforms brick-and-mortar stores into high-value digital assets. Their digital price tags, which replace the traditional price tags that need to be changed by hand every time a price changes, have revolutionized how data captured on a store shelf drives decisions across the entire enterprise. Retailers like Walmart Canada use digital tags to build more responsive and precise pricing which reduces pricing errors and the time staff spends manually changing prices with paper labels.

Elevate the shopping experience

Today’s customers still want the physical store experience, but they have become accustomed to digital conveniences, instant fulfillment, and a modern in-store experience. That is why Cooler Screens came up with an innovative way to bring a more digital experience to brick-and-mortar locations by replacing traditional glass cooler doors with smart touch screens that showcase products and nutrition information and advertise promotions. An enterprise-scale merchandising and media platform on Azure handles the data, analytics, and IoT behind the scenes. The result? Over 90% of customers preferred Cooler Screen’s dynamic cooler doors over traditional coolers. And retailers are able to access real-time out-of-stock analytics and create in-store digital media capabilities to drive new revenue streams.

Another innovative solution that improves the customer experience while providing critical back-office data comes from AiFi. Its AI-powered Azure computer vision technology, which tracks a consumer’s product interest and purchase, provides a frictionless shopping experience for consumers. AiFi revolutionized the customer experience for Poland’s largest convenience store chain Żabka. In addition, the solution provides critical back-office data that the company can access, analyze, and act upon with just a few clicks.

Build a real-time sustainable supply chain

With ongoing production and supply chain disruptions, knowledge about product status and location is key to keeping the lights on and navigating the way to profitability. Retailers around the globe are using Azure technology to do just that. The Walgreens enterprise built a solution robust enough to handle the volumes of data generated by 8 million customers each day.

Other companies use Azure-based solutions to manage their manufacturing and transportation logistics. These companies get products on shelves more efficiently with fewer truck deliveries, which in turn reduces CO2 emissions. In addition, retailers are using edge technology to manage refrigeration and HVAC systems, further reducing CO2 emissions across the enterprise.

The retail conglomerate, Grupo Bimbo, relies on our cloud to collect, track, and analyze data across more than 200 facilities in 33 countries. The company has a worldwide distribution network serving more than 54,000 routes. In addition to massive supply chain efficiencies, the company is tracking emissions in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

Empower store associates

There are many facets to using data to empower store associates. Retailers automate common in-store tasks such as stock replenishment and inventory management so employees can spend quality time with customers. They are also using other Microsoft technologies, such as Teams integration with headsets, to alert team members when a valuable customer is in a store.

One national hardware store analyzed product sales to optimize staffing levels based on foot traffic and increase their profits. They know contractors buy building materials early in the day, so employees are deployed to that part of the store in the mornings. In the evenings, when homeowners congregate in the home and garden aisles, those areas are staffed up.

Successful evolution with Microsoft 

Today Microsoft supports a broad spectrum of Azure retail solutions, services, and platforms that would have been unimaginable in the retail tech market a few years ago. With Azure and edge technologies, customers and partners gain a flexible and resilient framework that they can build upon. They use these technologies to reshape customer experiences, improve operational efficiencies, gain visibility into inventory, optimize deliveries across channels, and make better, data-driven business decisions and predictions.

To learn more about how Cloud + Edge creates efficient, agile, and sustainable retail, see our IoT Retail Solutions