This week at the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual Big Show in New York City, Microsoft is unveiling the latest digital innovations that are transforming the shopping experience for customers – at every step of their journey, across every channel. While personalization, omnichannel and customer-centricity are not new themes, retailers are more aware than ever that competing in today’s world requires emphasis on the entire customer journey. Technology and culture change will be required at all levels of a retail organization to provide the experiences customers expect.
We call this digital transformation, and many of our retail customers are already embracing this shift with help from technologies such as Microsoft Azure, Power BI and Dynamics 365, as well as solutions from our global network of partners. The hardware and software on display in our booth at NRF this week from these customers and partners are impressive — including store-scanning robots, mobile apps, intelligent vending machines and smart shelves.
Here are some of the solutions Microsoft customers and partners are implementing that use technology in new ways, from the warehouse to checkout.
Creating personalized experiences for customers:
• Nordstrom Rack aims for surprise and delight. In its pursuit of continually improving the customer experience, Nordstrom Rack is piloting in-store beacon technology from Footmarks, built on the Microsoft Cloud, to better engage and personalize shoppers’ experiences and ultimately increase speed and convenience. Today, Nordstrom Rack is using the beacons to gather data that it hopes will ultimately help to better engage and serve customers. It is also testing some messaging displays via the beacons to direct shoppers to available fitting rooms or express checkout services, and to show customers extended product offerings that are available online while they’re shopping in-store.
• Mobile grocery checkout with SKIP. SKIP is back at NRF this year, and Macey’s, an Associated Food Stores grocery chain based in Salt Lake City, is using the SKIP app for line-free checkout and to better personalize offers and promotions for customers. Built on Azure, SKIP enables shoppers to build shopping lists at home and have their lists organized by aisle as they walk into the store. Then they simply scan each item as they place it in their cart and check out on the app when finished. In the first two months of deployment, Macey’s has seen an increase in repeat usage of SKIP from guests as well as an increase in average trips to the store and basket size. And, by reducing the number of cashiers needed since implementing SKIP technology, Macey’s has been able to redeploy cashiers to the store floor to better assist customers and provide the “Happy Shopping” experience the brand is known for.
Empowering employees and evolving business practices with data:
• Smarter vending machines from Mars Drinks. To give its wide range of customers — from consumers and businesses to distributors — the best possible service, Mars Drinks worked with Neal Analytics to apply Microsoft data and machine learning technologies to its vending machines. By connecting its machines to the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, Cortana Intelligence Suite and Power BI technology, Mars Drinks can use remote sensors and predictive computing to better maintain stock levels, understand consumer behaviors and account for changes in demand related to factors such as weather and holidays. For Mars Drinks’ distributors, who are subject to a fine each time a product is out of stock, this ability to better anticipate and manage stock levels will enable them to avoid unnecessary revenue losses.
• Hickory Farms scales up to meet customer demand. Each year, Hickory Farms opens and closes approximately 500 seasonal retail stores within the United States and Canada for the holiday season. The company needed a way to scale up and down quickly to account for this massive swing in business. The solution: replace four disparate legacy business systems with Microsoft Dynamics 365 to integrate its catalog and mail order, web, retail and wholesale operations into a single platform. The company can now automate manual processes, break down business silos and better manage inventory such as exactly how many summer sausages were sold and shipped from each location — something it hadn’t been able to do before without significant effort. Hickory Farms also expects increased sales since customers can place online orders directly from any of its stores or kiosks, even if the item is not in stock at that location.
Driving innovation for better business outcomes:
• Meet Shelfie, the in-store robot. Unstocked shelves have met their match. Microsoft partner Lakeba has harnessed the power of robotics to solve low stock levels and incorrect product ticketing. Available as a robot or drone, Shelfie travels the store scanning shelves, enabling real-time stock reporting, identifying sales trends and providing intelligent insights to help optimize merchandise displays. With data analytics solutions running in Microsoft Azure, Shelfie empowers retailers to grow sales revenue and optimize profit margins — and frees up employees to focus on tasks that add bottom-line value. Shelfie will soon be piloted at U.K.-based supermarket Co-Op.
• Powershelf helps manage stock. Regional supermarket chain Giant Eagle turned to the Powershelf system and support from Hitachi Consulting to digitize inventory management. Running on Microsoft Azure, Powershelf uses sensors on shelves and Power BI dashboards to give employees up-to-date insight into what to order. The technology can also change pricing electronically, measure inventory life and send shoppers product information on their mobile phones. Powershelf has helped Giant Eagle reduce its out-of-stock replenishment time by two-thirds and cut its out-of-stock SKUs by 50 percent on any given day.
In addition to helping our customers and partners drive innovation, we’re innovating with the needs of retailers in mind as well. Last week, Microsoft released StaffHub, a new app for retail or any business with deskless employees. StaffHub makes it easy for retail managers to manage shift schedules and share information with their team, and it gives employees access to all their shift information – including the ability to easily swap shifts with others – right on the Microsoft StaffHub mobile app.
We’re proud to share our space at NRF this week with partners and customers that are delivering state-of-the-art retail solutions that harness data, empowering the workforce and optimize business operations. If you’re attending NRF this week, be sure to visit our booth, No. 2803, to see these solutions — and more — in action.