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By: ALEX LINDSTROM

Accelerate Retail Success in 2024 with These Four Pillars

Retailers must be smart, proactive, and decisive about their strategic planning, tech investments, and integration processes. That’s not always easy, but there’s a lot of guidance in the form of best practices, industry experts, and partnerships that can help retailers thrive in the current market. 

To dig deeper into these resources, RETHINK Retail recently held in-depth discussions with our Top Retail Experts Community and subject matter experts from Microsoft to produce a highly valuable podcast series aimed at exploring four pillars of successful retail in 2024: 1) Unlocking Data Value, 2) Unified Personalization, 3) Connected Supply Chains, and 4) Empowered Store Associates

Unlocking the Value of Your Data (While Boosting Security)

The age of ‘Big Data’ has been here for over two decades, and the technologies producing these vast data streams are only complexifying, producing terabytes of data every hour of every day. 

Fast-developing and maturing technologies like multi-cloud data infrastructure and various AI applications make data more accessible than ever, providing opportunities to collate, analyze, and produce previously impossible recommendations.

It’s a perfect solution for retailers that are still struggling to access all of their data, which is oftentimes held back by antiquated tech stacks with data stuck in silos that don’t integrate, making it impossible to find the data points you need, when you need them. 

Notes David Philips, Director of Azure Business for Retail Consumer Goods at Microsoft, AI brings all of that together while helping to maintain security—something that is difficult to ensure when you don’t know where your data even is, stuck in silos that can’t talk to one another:

“The premise of AI infrastructure is that you’re able to train all your models on the data that you have. Data is the key. By having an AI infrastructure in place, you can implement standards by which everybody can access this data,” key to maintaining a secure data infrastructure, he argues.

Continues Philips, “I think any type of AI strategy you have or anything you do nowadays has to be grounded in the fact that it has to be secure. Security has to be the top focus for whatever you do, for whatever you’re going to build, specifically in a generative AI world.”

When retailers combine innovative technologies like Generative AI with a well-executed multi-cloud strategy, they can transform into the ‘store of the future.’ This approach enables them to leverage their extensive data investments to generate consistent, significant impacts on their bottom line.

Unified Commerce Powered Personalization

The retail industry has long recognized the need for omnichannel commerce, but as this concept has evolved, it’s evident that the ultimate objective is unified commerce. This approach integrates data from all channels, allowing them to communicate and be accessed from centralized points, all while ensuring high levels of visibility and security.

With a unified data foundation, for example, customer data becomes easier to collate (or train an AI model on). In turn, insights can be generated for customers that were either not possible before, or far too cost-intensive to do with a team of dedicated analysts fruitlessly reviewing vast amounts of data.

Argues Christine Russo, a 2024 Top RETHINK Retail Expert and Principal with Retail Creative and Consulting Agency, first comes a tip-top data infrastructure, then the cloud to support, then the AI to leverage the foundation you’ve created.

“If you want to service the customer best, meaning the most personalized and segmented information, you’re going to use AI to get there, because you can,” she notes. “If I’m behind, I would definitely partner with a leading tech company to help gather that information. If I’m ahead, I would use a partner for those next steps.”

But what does this look like to the customer? Continues Russo, “We really want to have every touch point be unified whether it’s online or in-store because we want to layer on things like social engagement into any ecosystem where the customer is.”

In other words, by using a unified data infrastructure to bring together all your customer touchpoints, you can collaborate with your marketing team or brand partners to create events more targeted—and profitable—than ever before.

Modern Supply Chains for Modern Problems

Managing today’s massive, global, and endlessly complex supply chains is as great of a task for the retail industry as it ever has been. Retailers need to ensure they have the best tools available to them to stay competitive, including cloud-and-AI-powered forecasting that can keep your team on their toes and ready for anything. 

Reflects Ricardo Belmar, RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert and Director Partner Marketing Advisor for Retail and Consumer Goods at Microsoft, “One of the most recent developments with supply chains is all around forecasting, using all the data you have and leveraging prescriptive analytics and AI to get much more accurate predictions so that you know how much product you’re ordering for inventory, making sure you’re staying ahead of that.”

Beyond forecasting, ensuring your inventory is properly accounted for and managed while mitigating shrink and fraud (both growing trends in the industry) requires a level of visibility that wasn’t readily unavailable until recent innovations in data management and analysis. 

Notes Belmar, while organized retail theft has been making the news, a less-often-discussed fact is that much shrink happens due to problems with internal processes and monitoring. 

For Belmar, the question becomes how tech like AI can help solve this problem: “How can we leverage technology to make us better at preventing these things without risking the well-being and the safety of their store employees?” With the right tools and partners helping you monitor your vast inventories—and the supply chains that sustain them—that goal can become a reality. 

Unlocking Productivity with Empowered Store Associates

In 2024, it’s absolutely essential for retailers to put a spotlight on empowering their store associates, especially during a persistent global labor shortage that shows no signs of easing up. This shortage isn’t just a headache—it’s causing a cascade of issues, from headaches in retaining staff and training them effectively to dips in our ability to engage customers.

A proactive move for retailers is to take a good, hard look at their current team and figure out how to give them a leg up with the right tools. By capitalizing on the sophisticated data infrastructure they’ve poured resources into, they can transform their associates into versatile power players who can tackle a diverse array of tasks with ease and confidence.

Notes Jeff Strasser, a General Manager with Microsoft, “The more data associates have both about their products and their customers, the better they can engage in a more productive way…and better able to match customer demands, making for a more satisfied customer, which means a more satisfied business, which means more satisfied employees.”

However, it’s crucial to remember that the tools we deploy must directly address the needs that our associates emphasize as their top priorities. For instance, if employees feel overwhelmed due to being short-staffed, introducing technology that can lighten their workload should be a top priority. 

This not only eases their day-to-day tasks but also frees them up to engage more meaningfully with customers, which is the real engine behind your business and brand loyalty. This approach shows that we’re not just throwing tech at the problem, but thoughtfully enhancing our team’s ability to shine where it counts. 

Want to learn more? check out our latest podcast series going in-depth into each subject so that you can gain an edge over the competition. 

Our series features a range of SMEs from Microsoft, Gartner, and RETHINK Retail’s Top Retail Expert community, including Jeff Strasser, Steve Dennis, Shelly Bransten, Sandeep Unni, Lisa Amlani, Jose Luis Ortiz, April Zabral, Christine Russo, Ricardo Belmar, Michael Zakkour, David Weinand, David Phipps, and Charles Haseman!

Click here to listen to the Accelerated Retail playlist