Microsoft at National Retail Federation’s 100th Anniversary Show – Winning the Tech-Savvy Customer

This year, the National Retail Federation’s annual trade show – now in its 100th year – will focus on the opportunities and challenges associated with engaging with today’s tech-savvy consumer.

Today’s consumer comes to every buying decision armed with an arsenal of information that wasn’t easily available just a few years ago. They know more about products, prices and where the items they want are available than ever before.

“The new consumer has access to a wide range of consumer-oriented technology,” said Bill Gonzalez, general manager of worldwide distribution and the services sector at Microsoft. “They’re ‘connected’ to a wide range of sources of information through smartphones, tablets and PCs and they’re ‘connected’ to other consumers via social networks.”

To stay competitive, retailers must engage – ‘connect’ – with consumers across a variety of channels and in a consistent, personalized and seamless manner, according to Gonzalez.

“Ideally, retailers want to extend and maintain this ‘connection,’ including the times when the customer visits the store,” he said

For example, when a customer walks into a store where they normally shop and they have established a formal ‘connection’ with the retailer – for example, as part of a preferred customer program – the retailer, based on this customer’s shopping history and preferences, may be able to immediately deliver a message to the customer highlighting deals, promotions, offers and so forth that are relevant to the customer’s preferences. This can be done through smartphones, tablets or kiosks.

In today’s retail universe, social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter play an increasingly crucial role in consumers’ buying decisions. Much in the same way people consult magazines such as Consumer Reports before making a purchase, consumers today often go to their friends to hear what they think about specific products and services. And those friends are often found on Facebook and Twitter.

Late last year, Microsoft announced a new feature in Bing that brings up search results based on the likes of consumers’ circles of Facebook friends. So, someone looking to buy a flat-screen television can make a more informed decision based on their Facebook friends’ experiences with that or any other major purchase they’re looking to make.

“Then, there’s what we call the connection within the store,” Gonzalez said.

This connectivity relates to the need for the store operations to manage not just the customer-facing functions but also the internal functions intended to manage inventories and manage associates at the stores.

“Beyond that, we see the connection of the store with the rest of the enterprise,” said Gonzalez.

This is where the store connects with the enterprise’s supply chain, human resources functions and other sales channels.

“Connection to the back end of the enterprise is just as important as connection to the customer,” Gonzalez said. “The supply chain has to be effective in meeting all the different customers’ demands. What’s hot? What’s not?”

At this week’s trade show, Microsoft and its partners will demonstrate technologies that better enable retailers to understand customers’ needs and wants. Some of those technologies include Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5. Both technology platforms play critical roles in ensuring retail staff have the data they need at their fingertips to attract and retain loyal customers.

Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president at Microsoft Business Solutions, will deliver the keynote speech at NRF 2011 from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11. For a complete overview of Microsoft’s presence at NRF, see the main press release and media alert here.