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For many shoppers, Black Friday is the highlight of the year. But it leaves some retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies in a cold sweat. After months of preparation and production, they will try to keep their stores looking pristine and well-stocked.

Meanwhile, wave after wave of dedicated deal hunters descend on stores with one goal in mind: purchasing every last stocking stuffer and to-die-for gift in one epic day of shopping—no matter the chaos left in their wake. But thanks to the power of Microsoft Azure and the Internet of Things (IoT), some store shelves will be a bit less chaotic this holiday shopping season.

RFID tags, sensors reveal shopper behaviors

To head off disorganized and empty displays, CPG companies hire small armies of merchandisers to travel from store to store throughout the holiday season, ensuring shelves are stocked and its product is positioned prominently and appropriately. Now, in the age of retail Armageddon, it’s especially critical that merchandisers work efficiently and focus on stores and displays where they can make the most impact on store revenue.

Fortunately, many of the same technology initiatives that fueled the rise of online retailers are proving equally effective in improving the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. For example, CPG companies are connecting RFID tags and embedded sensors to an IoT solution, monitoring the customer’s in-store experience and generating data about how they interact with merchandise.

Sensors at eye-level can capture video of a customer’s reaction as they walk down the aisle at a certain speed. Information on whether the customer grabs a product, checked the price, or considered a product lower on the shelf is recorded and can be used to drive—and even automate—decisions around factors such as price, placement, and promotion.

IoT-assisted sales squads use data to focus, identify solutions

Smart shelves also can detect whether a product is displayed properly and when inventory is low, enabling merchandisers to prioritize their time more effectively.

AFS Technologies’ retail execution solution generates this kind of data so field sales and merchandising teams can quickly plan and complete daily in-store tasks. AFS’s retail execution program already has generated significant benefits for companies worldwide. Andre Jejen, AFS Global Product Director for Retail Execution, cites two examples: a CPG company in APAC boosted productivity by 25 percent, and a food and beverage company in the Baltics cut stock outages in half.

But before diving in, Jejen encourages companies to consider their end goal:

“Companies need to be very aware of what they want to measure, what they want to do with their data, and especially what they want to achieve. Businesses can simply say ‘sell more,’ but how are they going to do it? Is the goal to achieve larger shelf space? Is it to change packaging? Is it adding new flavors? You cannot grow the business by just saving or selling more. You need to do a combination of both.”

Greater access to IoT insights improves retailer strategy

AFS’s retail execution solution is built on Microsoft Azure, giving CPG companies access to the perceptive intelligence algorithms in the Cortana Intelligence Suite. With these tools, they can generate more powerful insights about the customer, regardless of whether they purchase a product.

To learn more about how Microsoft Azure and IoT are transforming retail, and other industries, visit the Microsoft IoT website.