Sheena Butler-Young, Senior Correspondent, The Business of Fashion, Renee Klein, and Mei Chen, Director Fashion and Luxury North America, UK and Northern Europe - Globalization Business, Alibaba Group. 

Jan 17 2023
Digital Workspace

NRF 2023: How Retailers Can Create Elevated In-Store Experiences

Artificial intelligence, data and digital capabilities will help business succeed as “resilient retail.”

At NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show, retailers at the annual conference of the National Retail Foundation discussed best practices for creating elevated in-store experiences that are personal, interactive and efficient. But with supply chain disruptions, inflation and shortages, retailers must be resourceful with their budgets and strategies.

In a session hosted by Microsoft, experts defined what “resilient retail” looks like in the face of these challenges and how a trifecta application of artificial intelligence, data and digital capabilities can help businesses succeed. 

How Retail Resiliency Translates into Agility

“We are living in an age of incredible digital transformation,” said Shelley Bransten, Corporate VP, Retail and Consumer Goods Industries at Microsoft. But changes in technology are resonating with each customer differently. “Over the holidays, I had 80-year-old grandparents at my house ordering groceries with QR codes, and teenagers learning makeup from TikTok.”

“Anything is achievable now, but with that power comes high expectations from consumers,” Bransten said. “Retailers need to learn how to do more with less. It requires working smarter, not harder, and being agile,” she said.

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What Is the Definition of a Resilient Retailer?

To define what “resilient retail” looks like, Microsoft conducted an extensive survey of over 1,200 retailers with revenues of more than $200 million across North America, Mexico, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Malaysia, Japan and Australia. The survey asked retail CEOs what came to mind when they thought of “agile retail.” Here are the results:

  1. The ability to adapt into change and thrive during times of uncertainty
  2. The ability to anticipate the unexpected – from shifting market conditions to changing shopper expectations
  3. The ability to absorb financial shocks in the economy and supply chain For a single retailer to master all three abilities is a tall order.

WATCH: Check out the full resilient retail segment at NRF 2023.

Resilient retail. Achieve more with Microsoft Cloud for Retail produced by Microsoft from The National Retail Federation on Vimeo.

For a single retailer to master all three abilities is a tall order. To start, experts recommended that retailers keep perspective. “Try cultivating a growth mindset in order to instill an adaptable, problem-solving culture,” Bransten said. “With time, that translates to a resilient attitude in employees, and then gets showcased in the company as a whole,” she said.


The percentage of executives who say the customer is evolving faster than they can change their businesses

Source: Microsoft, CEO Survey, January 2023

What CEOs Should Prioritize to Build Resilient Businesses

Achieving success amid industry disruption requires prioritization. Microsoft polled CEOs further and asked national retailers to identify three core priorities for their businesses into 2023 and beyond. Here are those results:

1. More emphasis on customer service.

This translates to meeting the customer wherever they are, however they are. This is a challenge, said Ray Marciano, retail growth and commerce lead at Accenture in a related session on customer-oriented culture. Because retailers must understand that “consumers have multi-dimensional lives.”

“In a single day, a customer can shift from a traveler to a brother to a worker to a father,” he said. “It might not happen overnight, but retailers must stay versatile to stay in customers’ lives.”

RELATED: Discover how businesses can improve their retail in-store shopping experiences.

2. A Retail Frontline that Supports Its Staff

A store is only as good as its inventory and its staff. “If we’re not leveraging the technology to help our staff, then we have to make a change,” Bransten said. Roxanne Flanagan, senior vice president and chief supply chain officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance, said, “this is always going to be a people business.”

“People are at the center of what we do so we need to invest in technologies that give our staff support,” she said. “They are our frontline workers.”

3. Solutions to Supply Chain Disruption

According to Microsoft, retail CEOs ranked supply chain disruptions as the No. 1 threat. Retailers also were concerned about managing inventory alongside inflation. Flanagan said that partnering with other suppliers, vendors and tech resellers helped Walgreens Boots Alliance get its technology outfitted faster. “By leveraging our partnerships in the last two years, we worked harder not smarter and saved millions,” Flanagan said.

Another solution is moving the supply chains outside the stores. “With fulfillment offsite, our pharmacists are more present with customers,” Flanagan said. E-commerce and curbside delivery are other ways to ease supply chain disruptions.

Shelley Bransten headshot
Anything is achievable but with that power comes high expectations from consumers. Retailers need to learn how to do more with less. It requires being agile.”

Shelley Bransten Corporate VP, Retail and Consumer Goods Industries, Microsoft

The New Immersive Store Solutions That Retailers Should Know

Once retailers gain resiliency in customer service, staffing and supply chain management, they can create an elevated store experience. Experts at both sessions agreed artificial intelligence, data and digital capability are essential to transforming any store.

Also at this year’s NRF conference, Microsoft announced two major retail solutions that deploy the aforementioned trio to meet customer demands. The first best-in-class solution is called Store Operations Assist. It allows real-time collaboration and increases frontline productivity so that store associates have more time to serve customers.

The second solution is called Intelligent Stores. A collaboration between Microsoft and AiFi, this technology brings world-class e-commerce analytics into physical stores. As adoption grows, the hope is that “autonomous, AI-embedded retail” will become as ubiquitous as artificial intelligence. Retailers also will benefit from the trust, security and privacy of the Microsoft cloud.

READ MORE: Explore the hottest retail tech trends of 2023.

Tomasz Blicharski, executive vice president and managing director of Żabka, a convenience store chain in Poland, said it was one of the first retailers to deploy “intelligent stores” using Microsoft and AiFi software. Customers tap their credit cards upon entering the store or scan their electronic wallets, then can leave the store with whatever merchandise they choose to automatically pay for upon exit.

“We opted for this technology because it is fast and reliable,” he said. “On average, half the European population shops at Żabka on a weekly basis. The store is already part of their routines, and we wanted to find a way to make their lives easier.” 

Roxanne Flanagan Headshot
The more we can customize, even by way of catering to a shopper's needs, the more we resonate as a brand. It’s a form of digital fluency.”

Roxanne Flanagan Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance

A Great Customer Experience Means Customization

Once retailers have a foundational layer of resiliency in place and a roadmap to achieving core priorities, IT leaders can leverage AI, data, and digital capabilities to customize the store experience. “We have an immense amount of consumer research data now at our fingertips. We can use that to inform and engage the customer more thoughtfully,” Blicharski said.“The more we can customize, even by way of catering to a shopper’s needs, the more we resonate as a brand. It’s a form of digital fluency,” Flanagan said.

Keep this page bookmarked for articles from the event, and follow us on Twitter at @BizTechMagazine and the official conference Twitter feed, @NRFnews.

NRF 2023: Retail's Big Show | Jason Dixson Photography

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