As part of the National Retail Federation's Annual Convention and Expo, Microsoft executives rolled up their sleeves to demonstrate how top retailers are using Microsoft technology to attract customers, empower employees, and manage operations.
One of Microsoft's goals at the retail expo was to showcase how some of its new technologies and partner solutions can help retailers take their business to the next level. Perhaps the most important product introduction was for Microsoft Dynamics for Retail -- a software -based solution encompassing customer relationship management (CRM ), customer engagement management (CEM), and a host of related functions, from financial and forecasting to store operations, supply chain management, and more.
Big Show, Big Challenge
The NRF expo, which is positioned as "Retail's BIG Show," ran from January 13-16th at New York's Javits Convention Center, with more than 27,000 retail professionals in attendance, including CEOs, small business owners, and a full range of marketing staffers.
One key theme of the show was dubbed "socialnomics" -- short for social economics and focused on transforming the way retailers need to do business in order to be profitable in today's social, mobile, digital world.
Brendan O'Meara, Microsoft's managing director for Worldwide Retail Sector, addressed the topic, emphasizing that a customer-centric approach is critical to making the sale these days. Why? Because today's 24/7 mobile and digital lifestyle has put customers in the driver's seat. Customers are armed with more information, more options and more expectations.
"Retailers have to deliver very personal, very relevant experiences to their customers in order to differentiate themselves from the crowd," O'Meara said.
Dynamics for Retail
As a highlight of their presentation, Microsoft execs announced the availability of Microsoft Dynamics for Retail, and demonstrated how it can help retailers reduce complexity.
Microsoft Dynamics for Retail is an end-to-end solution designed to help a retailer manage every aspect of the business, from store operations and supply chain to merchandising, call centers and financials, explained Michael Griffiths, who serves as global product industry director for Microsoft Business Solutions.
The software-based solution promises to help businesses connect better with customers by letting them buy, pick up, return, or exchange items on their own terms. Microsoft said Dynamics for Retail also helps empower salespeople and service reps by delivering relevant, real-time information as they interact with customers.
NRF attendees had a chance to see a Lotus Formula One race car parked at the booth, representing the breadth of capabilities Microsoft can provide. Lotus turned to Microsoft to help fine tune every aspect of its business, from managing the design, manufacturing, and testing of up to 20,000 parts on each car and analyzing real time data at the racetrack to managing their merchandising and e-commerce.
Attendees also learned how Microsoft Dynamics has helped power FaceCake's virtual dressing room experience by delivering product information as customers try on different clothes and accessories. FaceCake has been using Kinect for Windows to create a virtual dressing room where shoppers can try on outfits, makeup and various accessories. The immersive augmented reality experience isn't just another futuristic vision. Bloomingdale's piloted FaceCake technology last fall in 20 of its department stores.
Boosting Sales Dynamically
Slim margins have always been the norm for retailers, but delivering profit has never been more daunting, Griffiths said. Microsoft claims Dynamics can help widen the margin of profitability by enabling retailers to meet the needs of consumers more fully and to respond more quickly, as trends and expectations change.
"Our whole strategy is to help retailers be dynamic," Griffiths said. "We keep retailers connected across any channel, personally relevant so they can provide customers with a complete shopping experience." This, in turn, can help retailers keep "agile enough to grow their business without limits."