Retailers need to adapt to new consumer behaviours and a fast-changing market. Microsoft has introduced new tools to help retail businesses meet these challenges.
In July of this year, Microsoft rolled out its public preview of Dynamics 365 Connected Store. The new app brings further Artificial Intelligence (AI) features to the Dynamics 365 retail/e-commerce platform which allows retailers to leverage in-store observational data just as they use online behavioural data to increase sales.
Connected Store harnesses AI to optimise in-store efficiency and improve customer experiences. Real-time information – from video cameras, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and other edge devices – is transformed into actionable insights for store managers.
Retail space optimisation
The preview functionality initially offers optimisations in three core areas: Shopper Analytics, Queue Management, and Display Effectiveness.
For example, video cameras monitoring the check-out queues can automatically trigger a text message alert to staff when additional cashiers are required. Staff can also receive alerts as soon as display items require restocking, and display-effectiveness data can be used to maximise display space and customer engagement.
Connected Store gets smarter
Microsoft continues to improve Connected Store and add new functionality in the three core areas. Shopper analytics is now extended to provide data on footfall trends, allowing managers to identify, for example, changes by the hour and to better plan shifts.
Observational data can also deliver an understanding of Display effectiveness – how customers interact with display spaces and to run A/B testing on optimal promotional locations.
In addition to triggering alerts for long check-out queues, vision system analysis provides insight into customer waiting times and business lost to queue abandonment.
Microsoft has also put an emphasis on simplifying the deployment of Connected Store and ensuring highest levels of security. Existing in-store cameras can be used, with a straightforward setup and configuration that is similar to consumer devices. Video analysis avoids privacy issues – it does not use face detection and all tracking events are anonymous.
Deeper integration with Dynamics 365 Commerce
The vision data generated in Connected Store can now be combined with the transactional data from Dynamics 365 Commerce digital and physical channels. By combining multiple data channels, retailers can better understand their customer’s behaviour.
In this latest update, alerts triggered in Connected Store, such as long check-out queues, are notified in the Commerce Point of Sale application.
The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected the retail business. In-store, consumers are increasingly concerned that retailers follow effective hygiene procedures and contactless transactions have become more popular.
Connected Store introduces features to address these new realities. The Store traffic feature provides an analysis of social distancing compliance in the store. Alerts can be triggered whenever an unsafe threshold is reached in order to help staff control the flow of customers, and can also help in arranging the retail space for maintaining optimal social distancing.
Curbside queue is a new Connected Store feature that improves the effectiveness of ‘Buy online, pickup in store’ allowing consumers to minimise their contact with other shoppers. Vision systems recognise the approach of service-connected vehicles and trigger an alert so the order is brought out for seamless collection.
Microsoft continues to add out-of-the-box AI features to Connected Store, harnessing observational data to inform better business decisions and enabling employees to be more proactive and efficient. In the future, retailers will be able to make use of tools to develop their own customised AI models and deliver insights from their unique in-store scenarios.
Currently still in preview stage, Connected Store is already being piloted in a Marks & Spencer flagship London store, helping the 134-year-old brand achieve their ambition of being a digital first retailer. Connected Store gives the staff a real-time understanding of what is happening in the store so they can focus on delivering excellent customer service.
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