Microsoft’s Managing Director for Worldwide Retail Brendan O’Meara shares technology predictions for the New Year

This article appeared in Retail TouchPoints

As we’ve seen in the last few years, the consumerization of IT and customer expectations are now the driving force behind most technology decisions at retail companies. Staying competitive has meant truly putting customers at the heart of their business and staying connected with consumers’ shopping behaviors, preferences and expectations.

This holiday season, we experienced how retailers have gotten more tech savvy to engage customers and offer more flexibility in how they shop, with holiday shopping apps across the phone, tablet and PC, in-store modes for mobile apps, and in-store pick up options for online shoppers. As the lines between traditional and digital channels continue to blur, we predict several technology trends in 2013.

Engaging Your Customers

Integrated multichannel retail capabilities, strategies and management solutions are poised to have significant impact on the industry, as more retailers move to make omnichannel a reality. With consumers having increased options for how and when they shop, retailers need to deliver a seamless customer experience across all their channels. Optimizing and integrating their shopping channels as part of a single strategy for driving compelling customer experiences has become a must.

As retailers look to better connect with their customers through more relevant campaigns, integrated marketing and digital campaign management solutions are of increasing importance to dynamically manage content across digital channels and measure and optimize ROI on their digital marketing investments. Integrated marketing management solutions combine marketing resource management and multichannel campaign management into a combined executional, operational and analytical process that optimizes marketing impact and returns. 

Knowing and Serving Your Customers Better

Predictive analytics and big data will be another technology focus area in 2013. In order to remain competitive with a growing variety of shopping alternatives, retailers must seek new ways to deliver the most value, revenue and loyalty.  To do so, they must harness the increasing volume and availability of data using technology to process large amounts of data into meaningful reports and insights as quickly as possible.

For example, Hy-Vee, a Midwestern supermarket chain, partnered with Microsoft to help analyze its transactions, more than 800,000 per day, in order to gain insight on customer behavior. The technology has allowed them to give their employees access to reporting data quicker and help them make better predictions using historical data. The old adage goes, ‘the customer is always right,’ and with new technology retailers can more accurately determine what they want. 

Engaging Your Employees

To help improve operational efficiencies and productivity, we are also seeing increased interest from our retail customers in cloud computing solutions like Microsoft Office 365 and SharePoint Online. With the continued tight economy, the cloud provides cost-effective solutions for retailers to run their business more effectively by optimizing and streamlining operations. It also helps deliver modern productivity tools to deskless store employees.

A cloud-based Store Employee Portal, for example, can easily provide personalized access to the information each employee needs to complete their critical sales, inventory and customer service tasks from any device or location. Faced with increasing online competition, retailers must deliver differentiated and superior in-store experiences that leverage their people. To do that, they must engage their employees by providing the modern sales, social, and collaborative tools they need to best serve customers and the business.

2013 is poised to be an exciting time for retail. Today’s technologies can help retailers address the dynamic and multichannel retail environment. By embracing technological change, savvy retailers can meet the changing demands and expectations of consumers, ensure smart and successful business operations and be in a position of strength to adapt and grow as needs change.