Data unification is a critical challenge in retail

The new offering will make it easier for retailers to unify siled data sets to get a more holistic view of their customers, allowing them to create more detailed profiles of individual consumers to drive more personalized shopping experiences. At the same time, merchants will also have a better understanding of their supply chains, enabling better real-time inventory management through predictive analytics.

“Retail is an industry that has never been short on data, but historically there have been check-in systems and engagement systems, and those were disconnected,” Bransten says. When it comes to customer and supply chain data, she says, “it felt like the two would never meet. What’s different now is connecting that data on demand with supply data and do it in real time.”

Retailers have also sought to equip retail workers with collaboration technologies similar to those enjoyed by workers in businesses and home offices. Store associates have complained about the lack of tools available to them, according to new Microsoft research released last week. The last Microsoft Work Trends Index found that 75% of retail workers think companies don’t invest as much in technology for frontline workers as they do in customer experience technology, Bransten said.

In response, Microsoft has integrated its Teams walkie-talkie app with a lot of Zebra Technologies handheld computers, which are among the most commonly used mobile devices in the retail industry.

“This integration with Teams is a new capability, so on the device, the frontline worker can use a lot of the functionality that information workers take for granted,” Bransten says.

NRF 2022: Follow BizTech’s coverage of Retail’s Big Show.

Why retail is benefiting from “digital optimism”

Bransten says retail has stood out from other sectors during the pandemic both in its willingness to embrace digital transformation and the speed with which it has rolled out new solutions. Microsoft calls this retail “digital optimism” — the feeling within the industry that technology will help break down all barriers.

The environment in which retailers operate has not changed much since stores were allowed to reopen soon after the pandemic began. Retailers are facing “supply chain challenges, labor challenges and rising consumer expectations,” says Bransten, which was precisely the situation at the NRF Big Show in 2021.

“It’s definitely always the backdrop,” Bransten says. “What I see that’s really different is the speed and pace of deployment of digital tools. Our customers, whether it’s a Walmart or a Walgreens, have improved in areas such as demand forecasting, matching demand and supply in terms of recruiting the right store associates or flexing their e-commerce muscles. We see a lot of our retail customers acting in a way that tech companies do, in terms of tech adoption, getting to market, and being more nimble.