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It is hard to believe summer is already here and I’m preparing for my BIG Ideas session at the upcoming virtual NRF Retail Converge event. Honestly, I can’t wait to talk more about ‘retail’s new clock speed’ and how we’re helping retailers unlock a new wave of cloud innovation. Although retail leaders continue to refine their ‘retail playbook’ they’re increasingly asking, “how can we go faster?” And there’s five key areas where they’re looking to do that:

  1. Employee wellbeing—how is everybody doing?
  2. Personalized shopping experiences—who took my cookies?
  3. Sustainability—what’s our plan? Or if we have one already, how do we execute it?
  4. Innovation—what can we learn: from East to West?
  5. The future of our business— how much industry convergence and new ecosystems are we going to see?

Beyond looking at all five of the above some moreI’ll also be sharing details on our amazing industry cloud Microsoft Cloud for RetailAnd hosting a short fireside chat with two incredible CEOs – Navjit Bhasin, CEO, Newmine and Tom Ripley, CEO, Lids—who talk about how they’re embracing our cloud to move fast today and future-proof beyond 2021. 

The industry is talking: Microsoft Cloud for Retail

Back in January at NRF, we announced Microsoft Cloud for Retail. Our vision: to deliver seamless experiences across the entire shopper journey. Since then, we’ve been hearing great feedback. Customers have been kicking the tires and loving what they see. Partners have also been joining the fun, testing their solutions with Microsoft Cloud for Retail. What’s more “customer zero”, our very own Microsoft Store team has launched and is showcasing Microsoft Cloud for Retail features and capabilities that are helping influence our future product roadmap. And with all this great feedback, our engineering team is hard at work to keep improving the product and bring new capabilities to market.

Announcing even more new capabilities

I’m excited to announce we have some additional new features being released this month as part of Microsoft Cloud for Retail public preview.

First, Intelligent Recommendations is releasing in general availability next month. An incredible 76 percent of consumers say they are willing to buy more from brands who deliver personalized products, value, or services. Intelligent Recommendations enables retailers to deliver a shopping experience that provides relevant, context-driven discovery, and personalization. Intelligent recommendations can help uniquely tailor experiences and increase conversion by helping customers find more of what they want, where and when it is needed, both using historical information, as well as real-time signals.

Intelligent Recommendations comes with several patented capabilities, such as “Shop similar looks” and “Shop by description” that expands the relevant possibilities and further elevates shopper experiences for retailers, while making the integration and onboarding simple, very composable, and extensible. Using the Intelligent Recommendations simple APIs, schema and some sample code, retailers can get plugged into a state-of-the-art recommendations service started and finished within a matter of days or weeks. And for more advanced analytics tasks they can seamlessly bring Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Power Apps data to our unified analytics service using Azure Synapse Link for Dataverse.

Second, we are releasing Dynamics 365 Commerce and Power Virtual Agents Integration ready for public preview. This new integration allows retailers to improve customer engagement, enable continuous support and deliver proactive customer interactions. Retailers will be able to streamline engagement across commerce channels and customer service tools to gain better understanding of customer interactions for both insights and ongoing improvement of the customer experience.

Third, I am thrilled to share the great partner progress we are seeing with Blue Yonder and Zebra’s Reflexis Shifts connectors, which are starting private customer previews next month. These strategic partnerships with retail’s leading digital supply chain and workforce management providers will simplify access to scheduling and time and attendance capabilitiesthrough a new connector. This connector will surface information into Shifts in Teams so that employees are empowered to manage their schedules directly without having to switch apps. For example, Blue Yonder’s connection to Shifts enables the Marks & Spencer associates to see and swap shifts, review their schedule and make changes as needed, leveraging the richness of Blue Yonder’s solution in the back end while combining all its employee solutions in one place.

And we’re seeing incredible momentum with Teams. Year over year, Teams daily active users in retail grew more than 280 percent to support their accelerated digital transformation in response to the pandemic. Frontline workers have increased their reliance on the Teams mobile app to perform their jobs. I learned early in my own retail career that every good or bad decision we make in retail shows up in the store somewhere. Nothing has been more inspiring than the work we’ve been doing to empower the industry’s frontline workers. With Microsoft Teams we bring information and frontline workers together on the same platform to be able to innovate quickly. Just take REI who launched a new virtual outfitting service to help customers assemble bikes, find the right hiking boots, and gear up for camping trip. Frontline associates have emerged as true heroes in the past 18 months. We are focused on enabling them to be recognized with Praise, giving them flexibility with Shift management and empowerment with Task management as well as democratizing access to learning to give everyone the chance to thrive and grow.

That’s not all though on the Microsoft Cloud for Retail frontOur incredible ecosystem of industry partners is building out the extended value of Microsoft Cloud for Retail with additional solutions to address the most pressing challenges the industry is facing today. Many of our leading partners are working with public preview now, check out the progress.

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Customer zero: Microsoft Store

Since opening its doors in 2009, Microsoft Store has been a showcase for Microsoft technology, launching new products, and growing existing ones. Today, Microsoft Store is benefiting from Microsoft Cloud for Retail across its business. Microsoft Store is transitioning its web platform to Dynamics 365 Commerce and Adobe’s Experience Manager. Today, the platform is live in Singapore and will shortly launch in the U.S., followed by more markets over the next 12 months.

“Running Microsoft Store on Dynamics 365 Commerce not only simplifies the operational back-end processes through automation and significant reduction in the number of web management tools but provides the opportunity to improve and introduce new customer experiences with more speed and flexibility”, says Tuula Rytila, CVP Microsoft Digital Stores.

They’re also leveraging capabilities from Dynamics 365 Customer Service Hub, Microsoft Teams, and Power Platform, to digitally serve thousands of customers through 1:1 appointments with Personal Shopping, Business Consultations, and Personal Setup. Coupled with digital events enabled through Dynamics 365 Marketing Event Management and Teams Live Events that have hosted millions of attendees, customer reach has never been greater, all while achieving high customer satisfaction.

Behind all these new experiences are a diverse workforce of Microsoft Store associates leveraging Microsoft Teams as their primary interface for engaging in operations and collaboration. Teams is streamlining communication, adding clarity, saving time, and improving the culture. Through Teams Shifts, associates can view their day-to-day work schedule through a single screen. Teams Templates enables replication of Teams with the same Channels and Tabs across a variety of organizing structures. Teams Praise is also used every day by associates to give kudos and celebrate wins. In the next year, associates will also be able to track their daily activities and update their work schedule through Team Tasks and Shifts and access a single catalog of learning opportunities through Viva Learning in Teams, enabling them to succeed in a digital-first environment.

“We are energized about the opportunity to innovate in how we engage with all customers, optimize our talent for greatest impact, and most importantly – help our valued customers achieve more,” says David Porter, CVP of Microsoft Store.

What’s next?

Here’s the four things I encourage you to do as we continue the journey to Microsoft Cloud for Retail together: