By: Tracy Issel

Last week we participated in the National Retail Federation Big Show to share how Microsoft technology and devices are helping retailers take advantage of this digital era. We showed attendees how we can help retailers get the right devices with the right information into the hands of employees to improve their customers’ experiences.

As I reflect on the show I’d say that industry leading retailers are starting to do three things that are changing the face of retail.  Each leverages connected devices, harnesses the power of an engaged workforce, and delivers on the promise of smart operations:

  • Creating omni-channel baskets – Everyone has their own take on omni-channel retailing and at NRF the term was in signage all over the floor. It seems to me that “channels” start at the retailer and then extend to the customer.  I believe the customer is truly at the center in today’s world.  They are more informed, aware, and connected than ever before.  Retailers have channels merely to go to the customer on the customers’ terms.  If we start with the customer at the center, then a different term is in order.  The term:omni-basket. Customers know what they want to buy and place in their “shopping basket” and in today’s digital world they want to have those purchases delivered to them in different ways – some in store, some online. Customers want access to products from anywhere and they want to determine how they are fulfilled.  They truly want one basket, potentially filled by different retailers, potentially accessed via different channels, potentially delivered at different times via different methods.
  • Addressing the Dark Channel – Physical stores are the dark channel for retailers, and inside the dressing room is the darkest. No one knows what’s going on behind those doors, and when customers come out it can look like a crime scene, with nothing but some clothes piled on the floor to try to determine what happened. This week we unveiled a solution to this problem: the Microsoft and Accenture Connected Fitting Room. The Connected Fitting Room recognizes the clothing brought into the room (through RFID tags), allows the shopper to request other sizes or colors or other items and send a message to the store associate on their Windows Phone to bring the items. The Connected Fitting Room also stores aggregate data such as how long it takes store associates to respond or how often customers request different sizes in an item. If you think about it, every item brought into the fitting room is a “like,” so this information is really helpful. At the end of the day, store managers can review a dashboard of data on their Windows Tablet that includes data visualizations on which items were purchased, which weren't, and which sizes and colors were selected and rejected. Retailers no longer need to live in the dark.
  • Moving from mass merchandising to mass customization – The days of mass merchandising are over, and today it’s all about mass customization. The digital era has born a generation of people who want personal experiences and the Razorfish Emerging Experiences team showed off a great
    way to do this at NRF this year. They built a pop up store that was a shipping container with a surf shop inside complete with a Perceptive Pixel-powered surfboard designer that comes to life right before your eyes. People at the show were able to design their own surf board, select additional products with their board design and (mock) pay for the merchandise right there at the large touch screen experience. They can take a picture with the board they just designed, allowing them to post it on social media and share with friends, even before the products are shipped to them. You can imagine how this kind of sales and marketing experience in a highly technical pop-up store could be useful at major sporting events, concerts, etc.

2014 is shaping up to be another transformative year for retail.  Retailers can either shy away from technology, or they can embrace it and step fully into the digital revolution, like Swedish retailer MQ who selected the Surface Pro to create an endless aisle experience for customers by giving them access to the full complement of their inventory – whether it’s in the store, online or in their warehouse. Or like Coles Australia who shared how they developed mycoles, built on Office 365, to help their employees work together to give the highest quality and service to their customers. There are a lot of inspiring stories from our customers and partners so be sure to check out some of the highlights from NRF 2014.