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In order to respond to consumer demands today, retail supply chain management calls for a drive towards shorter, more predictable, and more flexible supply chains. The pursuit of optimal costs and solid inventory management practices are also required.  Retailers with legacy systems and processes are struggling to meet these demands and adapt to the fast pace of change needed to sustain consumer attention. These legacy models typically cannot respond quickly enough and do not provide the necessary visibility to make real-time decisions.

Transparency is critical to meet this need for speed: a retailer with full visibility into its supply chain can more accurately assess the health of its chain, including inventory levels and locations. This provides the ability to fulfill products from different sources to get the freshest, fastest, and most economical replenishment and fulfillment.  Likewise, processes can change to increase efficiency, agility, and better serve the consumer. It also allows for better collaboration across the chain to meet new consumer requirements or spikes in demand.  Where information flows freely, innovation and efficiency follow.

Investing in cloud-based adaptable data services and management solutions is one way to achieve transparency. They deliver seamless access to and advanced insights from information systems. Cloud-based solutions offer flexible, cost-effective, and secure options for information sharing between employees in the same company and between partners in cooperating companies. In addition, these solutions make aggregating the inventory systems of multiple parties in the supply chain more feasible. This leads to better visibility into product availability and the potential for a distributed order management capability.

Consumers also demand insight into product availability and location. Purchase journeys often involve online, mobile, and in-store shopping – potentially at more than one location – before converting. Modern retailers are expected to make it easy to determine the fastest or most efficient way for consumers to purchase or experience a product. Integrated cloud-based solutions can help deliver on this expectation. They allow retailers to merge digital and brick-and-mortar inventories, which is necessary to serve the omnichannel consumer and give them the most up-to-date product locations information.

Information transparency in store leads to better customer service, especially as it relates to consumers finding the products they seek. RFID-enabled inventory, supported by a cloud-based data solution, provides store employees and systems visibility into what inventory is available and where it is physically located for fast retrieval.  As click and collect gains in popularity, retailers also must be able to accurately manage inventory to meet consumer needs from both online and in store traffic. And, as consumers continue to demand fast shipping, stores can begin to build a micro-warehousing capability for digital orders with greater visibility into their inventory.

At Microsoft, we understand the challenges of retail transformation and can help you leverage the capabilities of AI and machine learning to improve the responsiveness of your supply chain.

For more of our perspective on retail supply chain optimization, read The Anywhere, Anytime Consumer: Adapting the Retail Supply Chain, an e-book written by retail strategy and technology experts from Microsoft Services.