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Vertical Spotlight: How Azure is Helping to Reinvent Retail

Microsoft Azure Reinvent Retail

Microsoft has turned their attention to the retail industry and for very good reason. While AWS is still the clear market leader in the public cloud space, many of the top retailers see Amazon as a competitor and feel more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of sending their hard-earned dollars into their rival’s deep pockets. As a result, many retailers have turned to the cloud provider standing next in line: Microsoft – a familiar face amidst a world of upstart disruptors.

Some of the retailers who have opted for Microsoft Azure are Arca Continental, ASOS, Deschutes Brewery, Dixon Carphone, Kroger, Marks & Spencer and Walmart. If you happen to be a retailer and interested in joining the list, let us know.

Shamrock Consulting Group is a certified Azure partner and we can help you not only migrate to Azure for the guaranteed best rates in the industry, but we can also assist with a whole host of Azure-related services such as:

Enterprise-Level Support

Cost Management Tools

App Migration Support

Architecture Reviews

Net 30-Day Billing

Azure Savings 25-35%

So now that we know why retailers in general favor Azure over any other cloud platform, let’s dig into what Microsoft is actually offering those retailers who choose them:

Appsource: Microsoft’s Suite of Retail-Focused Apps

Microsoft Azure has partnered with a number of companies who are developing powerful retail and packaged goods-focused apps and solutions to help stores run and grow their businesses. These apps are available via the Microsoft AppSource app store.

Search results can be refined by industry simply by ticking the ‘retail’ checkbox (there are over 1,200 apps in this sector). Any app can be trialled for free, and Shamrock can help you correctly implement these apps on Azure for maximum efficiency and cost-savings.

Appsource Applications include:

  • Neal Analytics SKU assortment optimization, which promises a new way to ensure the right products are on the right shelves in every store.
  • Flintfox RMx, on the other hand, is all about pricing. Described as a hyper-performing price engine, RMx can provide sub-millisecond response to price changes, helping retailers to tightly control pricing strategy and promotions.
  • AFS Technologies provides an app to help in-store staff comply with store promotions, improve shelf performance and optimize retail operations.
  • Azure users can also integrate apps with Dynamics 365. These include Scaptify (which connects Dynamics Business Central with Shopify), HR Plus, Stock Management, Maplytics™ and Trial.

Deep Personalization

For most retailers, developing a personal relationship with your customers is high on your list of priorities. It also happens to be an area that Amazon is renowned for.

Determined not to be outdone, Microsoft is increasingly promoting Azure’s ability to gather and present data to enable retailers to anticipate their customers’ needs and interests, responding with personalized offers across all of their retail channels.

Microsoft talks about hyper-personalization these days, bringing previously siloed data sets together and spotting more subtle behaviors within larger patterns. In a recent podcast, Microsoft Industry Solutions Executive for Retail in Australia, Marcy Larsen, explained how hyper-personalization is moving beyond marketing and affecting supply chains. This, in turn, enables retailers to spot wider trends and use this knowledge to adjust strategy.

Hyper-personalization is challenging for big retailers who may have inventories numbering in the tens of thousands, with thousands of new products released each week. Microsoft is offering Azure as the solution that will ensure brands remain relevant to their customers and that their promotions are more targeted, thus increasing sales. Microsoft is also heavily promoting Azure’s ability to personalize customer service delivery.

Responsive Stores

Microsoft has also been working closely with retailers on innovations such as Synchronized Shopping and ‘smart shelves’.

With Synchronized Shopping, web visitors can store the details of products they’re interested in on their smartphone and receive subtle alerts whenever they walk past a store where that product is available. It’s a lot like, ‘check item is in store’ except in reverse, as the store reaches out to you when it has the products you want.

Additionally, Microsoft has partnered with Kroger on Azure-connected  ‘smart shelves,’ more properly known as EDGE (Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment).

Microsoft EDGE is the Internet of Things in action, with digital shelf displays responding to your shopping preferences (recorded on your smartphone) to indicate products of interest and provide personalized information relating your interests to the product in hand. For example, if you have indicated that you are gluten intolerant, the smart shelf might highlight that the bread you are currently looking at contains gluten but another loaf nearby is gluten-free.

Increasing the number of touchpoints between customers and retailers in this way provides even richer data. With all of these technologies dependent on real-time processing and vast data storage capabilities, Azure is positioning itself as the platform that can best deliver this type of experience.

Iron-Clad Security

Retailers are becoming more conscious of the huge risks involved in failing to securely transmit and store customer and employee data. As a trusted security provider for 95% of Fortune 500 companies, this is another area where Microsoft clearly feels it can present Azure as not just the best security solution, but the only one.

Azure centralizes user control of security, compliance and privacy in its Trust Center which is packed with resources and tools for Azure users. Azure also integrates with Active Directory, enabling retailers to use the familiar hierarchical system to set user permissions and control data access. For application developers, Azure DevOps Services provides a way for building applications with security and compliance policies hard-wired in.

Data resilience is also critical for retailers who can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in the blink of an eye should their networks go down. Microsoft Azure offers powerful business continuity and data recovery (BCDR) integrations for increased peace of mind.

Interested in a complimentary review of your security configurations? Shamrock can help. We are a vendor-neutral consultancy and can offer experienced advice with regards to how you’re provisioning security for your business.

Advanced Analytics

Creating personalized offers, forecasting trends, serving customers, responding to real-time online and in-store behaviors, detecting cyber threats and fine-tuning the supply chain are all types of things that depend heavily on analytics. Not just the ability to access, aggregate and report big data, but also to use algorithms to analyze data and spot trends and anomalies within it.

Ultimately, the retail businesses that thrive are generally going to be those who can best tap into and utilize the vast quantities of information at their disposal. Whether its understanding the deep motivations of customers from online behavior, drawing actionable insights from in-store activities or identifying and mitigating sophisticated cybersecurity threats, Azure provides some really good tools to help you and your team turn raw data into actionable insights.

Azure advanced analytics draws upon a variety of modeling techniques to enable predictive processing and automated decision-making with machine learning helping these processes become smarter over time.

Azure offers analytics software and services which are reliable, secure, agile and available across multiple channels. This is yet another lure for retailers who are anxious to embrace the cloud yet unwilling to fund Amazon in the process.

Don’t Do It Alone!

In recent years, Microsoft Azure has made a concerted effort to target retail companies and, to some extent, reinvent the way these companies do business. If you are a retail company and are interested in what Azure has to offer, check out our Microsoft Azure Consulting Services  to learn more about what we do with Azure and how we can help your business.

As certified Microsoft Azure partners, we are uniquely positioned to offer the best prices on Azure products and services. But we’re not just an Azure partner. As a vendor neutral consultancy, we also offer the best rates on products and services thanks to our partnerships with AWS, Google Cloud Platform and many more public, private and hybrid cloud vendors.

Regardless of which cloud vendor makes the most sense for your company, Shamrock can help. Whether you’re looking to migrate from your on-premise network or existing cloud provider, or if you’re already using Azure (or another cloud platform) today, we can help you architect and orchestrate your environment to find maximum cost efficiencies (our clients save an average of 25-35% on their existing cloud costs).

Don’t miss a golden opportunity to increase your efficiency and decrease your costs in the cloud. Talk to a cloud expert at Shamrock today!

Ben Ferguson

Ben Ferguson

Ben Ferguson is the Vice President and Senior Network Architect for Shamrock Consulting Group, an industry leader in digital transformation solutions. Since his departure from Biochemical research in 2004, Ben has built core competencies around cloud direct connects and cloud cost reduction, enterprise wide area network architecture, high density data center deployments, cybersecurity and Voice over IP telephony. Ben has designed hundreds of complex networks for some of the largest companies in the world and he’s helped Shamrock become a top partner of the 3 largest public cloud platforms for AWS, Azure and GCP consulting. When he takes the occasional break from designing networks, he enjoys surfing, golf, working out, trying new restaurants and spending time with his wife, Linsey, his son, Weston and his dog, Hamilton.

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