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Frictionless Retail and Microsoft

18 March 2019
Written by
Helayna Lowe

One of the largest trends in the global retail market is the idea of creating a “frictionless” customer experience. Here, we’ll take a look at exactly what this means, and how retailers are partnering with Microsoft to create an optimally frictionless experience. 

The changing retail landscape

The magic word on all retailers’ lips is “disruption”. In the UK, the high street has seen some of the worst sales performances for a decade, but those retailers who are transforming what they do to attempt to rise and meet changing customer expectations, there are rich pickings to be had. 

There are also significant differences between what’s happening in the East and the West. China, for example, is on the move, transforming bit by bit into a services economy, and home-grown companies like Alibaba Group are reshaping the Chinese retail world. It’s only a matter of time before mobile-first payment, and socially-implemented payment mobile systems (such as WeChat) are the standard for the West, too.

With that in mind, more than ever, phrases like “digital transformation” and “operational transformation” are on the lips of every retail professional. Here is how retailers are helping to step back and turn the tide in this difficult time for retail.

Smoothing things out 

Customer experience has become central to retail success across the globe, from Switzerland to Saudi Arabia, from food and drink to beauty and cosmetics. 

This takes a number of key forms, but one change that has been particularly successful is the move by retailers to ensure that whether a customer is in-store or online, they can browse and purchase products. This is is crucial, as it prevents the customer from feeling limited or restricted by their decision to shop in-store or online. 

Albertsons turns to Microsoft… Plus more 

For a digital transformation partner like Microsoft, which has—under the leadership of Satya Nadella—rebranded as a digital transformation and productivity business, this is all good news. 

In retail, Microsoft now has an added advantage, given that rival Amazon (with its Amazon Web Services) is now looking to establish its own physical retail stores, and has global aspirations to become a leader in the sector. 

Albertsons operates more than 2,000 stores across its various subsidiaries that includes Safeway, Acme Markets, Tom Thumb and Randalls. 

Now, the retailer has partnered with Microsoft to bring Microsoft Azure to improve customer experience. Anuj Dhanda, Albertsons EVP and CIO said “We are reimagining the future to serve customers in a way they want to interact with us across all channels.”

He continues:

“Our partnership has already produced an innovative way to save time at the gas pump. Microsoft’s strengths in cognitive technologies, artificial intelligence and data science applied at scale at Albertsons Companies will transform the customer experience in our stores and digitally.”

We’re not a hundred percent clear how the two partners are going to proceed, but a trial pilot uses Microsoft Azure and geo-fencing to allow customers to complete "almost all" of the steps required to pay for gas without leaving one's car. 

The company also makes reference to improved consumption analytics, allowing for just-in-time supplies and less product waste.

It is quite possible that, in an effort to pursue "frictionless retail," the company is also planning a checkout-free system, where shoppers can simply walk into a store, pick up their shopping, and leave - without having to suffer the ignominy of talking to another human, or interacting with a machine.

Can Conspicuous help?

If you work in retail and you haven’t already, you should take a step back and assess your current customer journey and experience. 

If you need to bring in a team of Microsoft Dynamics professionals who understand Microsoft Azure and could help you define and implement a new system, get some advice from a member of our US and UK focused teams, please get in touch here—we’d love to help.

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