This article was originally published in the 2019 spring issue of The Record. Sign up for FREE here to receive the next issue directly in your inbox.
For some it is the best price. For others it is the wide range of products. And for the most part, it's the promise of a perfect, high quality and enjoyable service experience. Understanding what factors attract customers to shop with, and keep coming back, a particular brand can be difficult. However, in a world where customers are overwhelmed with brands, products and advertising wherever they are targeted, it is crucial for retailers to identify exactly what customers value most in a shopping experience and find ways to deliver it in a more engaging and convincing than any of their competitors.
"Today's consumers are connected to information like never before and want what they want, when they want it," says Shelley Bransten, Microsoft's vice president of Worldwide Retail and Consumer Goods Industries. "They choose to buy with a brand because they see the value of a product or an experience and come back when they have a positive experience. Factors like delivery times, price, quality, convenience, personalization, frictionless shopping and shared values come into play when a customer chooses one brand over the other, the secret of success is a profound understanding of what customers want in a given moment, identifying what influences product choices and brand choices. customers, such as social media, targeted e-mails or TV and website advertising, retailers can create high-impact marketing and promotional campaigns that encourage people to invest values, making them more likely to buy products and experiences ".
While it may seem daunting, making their brands stand out from the competition is much easier than it seems if retailers consider challenges as opportunities to put and keep customers at the center of their business model. According to Bransten, there are three significant opportunities for retailers to overcome the challenges of making their brand an excellent choice for consumers.
First, they can analyze the data to understand their customers' needs and their personal preferences better than any other competitor – and ideally, better than the customers themselves. "Customers decide when, where and how they want to make purchases and if they want a quick and convenient buying experience – or longer and more immersive – at that particular time," says Bransten. "By monitoring and analyzing customers' online and in-store purchasing models and brand interactions, retailers can offer personalized and well-groomed shopping experiences, driving loyalty and business growth."
From data analysis to artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of objects (IoT), there are several new digital and cognitive technologies that help retailers bridge the gap between customer expectations and what they can offer in stores or online. Some of these smart technologies can be used to simplify operations and allow employees to work more efficiently through the entire retail chain – from the warehouse to the showroom to the C-suite.
"Every retail employee is a brand ambassador who can make or break a customer relationship," explains Bransten. "Retailers who do not adequately equip their employees with technology that allows them to shift attention from low-value back-office activities, such as deadline management, to offer fantastic experiences to customers are likely to disappoint customers , which will probably look for a better experience elsewhere. "
Digital technologies can also be used to power the intelligent supply chain, ensuring that the right products are in the right places and at the right times.
"The retail chain needs to move quickly to meet customer demands: for example, 75% of customers expect to receive an online order within two days or less," says Bransten. "Supply chain problems have a real impact on customers' buying path and the right technology can mean the difference between a negative experience and a positive experience. To meet or exceed customer expectations, the Successful retailers use data to anticipate what their customers will need and where they need it, and they evaluate and optimize every aspect of the supply chain, from raw materials to products that end up in the hands of customers, to ensure they can meet these demands, which means taking advantage of intelligent processes to reduce costs and improve efficiency and agility ".
According to Bransten, the most successful retailers are not simply adopting ready-to-use AI, IoT and cloud solutions from third-party vendors. Instead, they're going further and building their digital capabilities on that technology to give them the foundation they need to evolve with their customers. This is where Microsoft and its robust partner ecosystem can help.
"Microsoft is committed to enabling smart retail by enabling retailers to take control of their digital evolution and make their business successful for years to come," says Bransten. "We are unique in the sector thanks to our approach to working with retailers: we don't just sell technology and go away, we sit and discover their greatest opportunities to be able to bring the right solutions to the table to help them succeed. Our cloud solutions , big data, connected elements, advanced analysis, mixed reality and artificial intelligence are helping retailers, like Starbucks and Walgreens Boots Alliance, transform their business models and exceed customer expectations. "
A retailer that works with Microsoft to reinvent the customer and employee experience is the grocery store chain in the United States The Kroger Co. The company has developed a Retail-as-a-Service platform based on Microsoft Azure that will use IoT, AI and data analysis sensors to power a connected store experience. The solution will use customer and sales data to allow Kroger to quickly create new customer experiences, enable higher levels of customization, improve associate productivity and support merchandising plans. The innovations will include a video analysis solution with Microsoft Azure technology that will help store members identify and target out-of-stocks, as well as a "pick-to-light" productivity solution that will give them visual clues so who can locate items more quickly fulfill roadside pickup orders. The Kroger system's EDGE Shelf, which uses digital displays to indicate prices, promotions and nutritional and dietary information, will also connect to Kroger's Scan, Bag, Go solution, creating a guided shopping experience for customers.
"There has never been a more exciting time to be at the intersection of retail and technology, and there are incredible opportunities for retailers who embrace the future with a trusted technology partner," says Bransten. "Microsoft strengthens – rather than competes with – our retail customers. We work side by side with them and bring the brightest minds through cloud, predictive analytics, machine learning, cognitive services and more to help unlock opportunities. Our platform cloud is really the basis for re-imagining retail sales and creating experiences and processes to push retailers to long-term success. "
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