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Retailers around the world are transforming their businesses by pairing digital and physical operations into one seamless, connected experience. The result is a retail renaissance, driven by data and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions that empower employees with deep insights and delight today’s digital-savvy customers with more personalized and relevant experiences.

Each year, Microsoft Envision brings business leaders together from around the globe to focus on the latest challenges, trends, and technologies in service of growing and transforming their organizations. The 2018 summit ran from September 24–26 in Orlando, Florida, and featured a top-notch list of speakers including Alexis Ohanian, Trevor Noah, and Satya Nadella. Together, they shared insights and lessons from their own investments in AI and digital transformation.

Here are a few of our favorite takeaways for the retail industry.

Key retail takeaways from Envision 2018

We hosted multiple retail-focused sessions during Envision, such as “Empowering intelligent brands and retail” and “Intelligent retail: Delight your customers with an intelligent customer journey.”

During our session titled “Making AI in retail real: Lessons learned to achieving value with AI,” Richard Wingfield, CEO of Maijid Al Futtam – Ventures, offered insights into his organization’s adoption of advanced analytics technologies.

Wingfield shared five key takaways when working with AI to empower employees, optimize operations, and deliver more personalized experiences for customers.

  1. Begin with clean data: a focused and intentional process makes data management easier.
  2. Avoid data swamps: know what data you are collecting and why.
  3. Don’t expect a silver bullet: AI is an iterative process, not an instant fix.
  4. Have patience: models will fail, and that’s OK.
  5. Celebrate people: business and technology teams must collaborate and educate employees by putting the right tools in the right hands.

In “Exploiting Amazon’s weak spots: Enabling great customer experiences,” Doug Stephens—perhaps better known as The Retail Prophet—shared his prediction that in 10 years, the retail space will look completely different than it does today. How do retailers brace themselves for such an evolving environment? Experiential and engaging retail is key, and the means to give a reason to shop with you.

Stephens says that great customer shopping experiences must be SUPER:

  • Surprising: to delight customers and leave a lasting impression.
  • Unique: to celebrate the elements that set a brand apart from all others.
  • Personalized: to make a customer feel special and valued.
  • Engaging: to create an intuitive connection to each of the five senses.
  • Repeatable: to create a uniform level of consistency that still feels spontaneous and can be well executed.

Showcase: H&M intelligent mirror

Our executive keynote talk came from Alysa Taylor, Corporate Vice President of Business Applications and Global Industry at Microsoft. Alysa shared the story of how clothing retailer H&M is boosting customer engagement with an AI-capable mirror built on Microsoft Azure.

Seeking a way to convert the massive amount of foot traffic into sales, the H&M team created an interactive mirror that gives customers personalized offers and style recommendations. The solution has been a massive success since launching 3 months ago, with 6000 unique sessions and counting.  H&M has also experience increased newsletter and social media interaction and glowing press coverage, with Forbes calling the experience “ambient tech that actually works.”

What’s next?

We’re excited to announce that Microsoft will participate in the National Retail Federation (NRF) 2019 showcase, where we will share solutions for:

  • Delighting customers through personalized, seamless experiences.
  • Empowering retail employees with data-driven insights.
  • Optimizing retail operations to build an agile organization.

The future of retail is bright

Our presentation at Envision demonstrated that Microsoft is helping many leading retailers to transform their retail systems for today’s digital world. Interested in taking your next step towards intelligent retail? Read our AI in Retail e-book here.