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With the disruption retailers are facing, how do they prepare their supply chains for changes that are on the horizon? As the consumer-retailer relationship shifts, businesses that use their supply chains effectively will be the ones to succeed. This means providing full transparency, real-time personalization, and values-driven, consumer-centric supply chains. Implementing next-generation technology will underpin this effort and simplify supply chains to respond to consumers.

With full transparency, a direct connection to a product’s end-to-end experience will give the consumer and retailer alike beneficial information. A growing segment of consumers is already demanding to know product origins and journeys. Blockchain technology could help consumers trace the origins of products to ensure they make purchases in alignment with their values and verify that the trust they put in their retailers is legitimate.

In a consumer environment that demands greater corporate responsibility, retailers that can prove accountable business practices could gain competitive advantages. Traditional audits help shed light on supply chain practices but are very time consuming. Using blockchain provides a more efficient alternative, as retailers can perform audits in real time.  Blockchain could also help retailers assess product integrity and be useful in tracking the various parts of distributed orders.

Reimagining supply chains to produce real-time, personalized products and experiences will be an advantage in an era where consumers are drawn to stores offering bespoke, technology-enabled entertainment, such as mixed-reality mirrors. Fast manufacturing through 3D printing could be used to create products custom products on demand, while alleviating the need for stores to hold finished inventory. Stores could instead become micro-warehouses for supplies and mini-factories for building products, thereby collapsing steps in the chain.  Using shared logistics services or autonomous delivery would help them with last-mile fulfillment to the consumer.

Designing values-driven, consumer-centric supply chains can also help grow sales and profitability by increasing the perceived value of inventory to consumers. Retailers most deeply connect with consumers through the emotional experience their services provide, or the societal impact they foster.  Reframing supply chains around the consumer allows retailers to deepen their relationships with consumers by understanding how best to connect with them.

While the dynamics in the retail landscape can change instantly, a consumer-centric supply chain puts the consumer at the forefront of decisions made to adapt to the new environment. This way, retailers can deliver products and services that speak to consumers’ values – a practice that can open new revenue streams and allow increased margins on current 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.