Microsoft: Big Data, Mobility Revolutionize Retailing

As Microsoft gears up for the NRF conference, it signals that its sprawling software portfolio, including Windows Embedded, can help stores reach consumers.

Expect Microsoft to spotlight big data, mobility and enterprise social during the National Retail Federation's (NRF) gathering in New York City next week.

Ahead of the convention, staffers have taken to the company's official blogs to preview some of the tech Microsoft has in store for retailers. Kristin Flandreau, Americas business group lead for Windows Embedded, signaled that her company will discuss how her team's tech can help businesses leverage big data to score more sales in the fleeting moments that they are able to reach consumers.

Omni-channel retailing, on-demand marketing and real-time engagement are the order of the day. Flandreau quoted Sweeni Ponoth, global practice leader, retail and brands, Symphony Analytics, a predictive analytics firm and Windows Embedded partner, as saying that "Retailers today have about three seconds to inspire a customer."

Using Windows Embedded as a foundation, retailers can harness the platform's massive data collection capabilities to optimize their marketing and engage with consumers in a timelier manner. Flandreau explained that "data collected from new endpoints like Near-Field Communication (NFC) tags, as well as from social media, Websites and connected devices such as phones, point-of-service (POS) devices, kiosks, industry tablets and digital signage flows into a back-end data center."

"This data, once analyzed and responded to—often in real time—can help improve conversion of the sale," she said.

Flandreau recommended that retailers experiment with "NFC tags, social media and new approaches like geo-fencing." Microsoft is also bullish on helping retailers get to the "the heart of on-demand marketing" by adopting big data and predictive analytics, which enable businesses to implement "predictive models to sense and respond to user behavior."

Some of those technologies will be on display at NRF. In a separate Official Microsoft Blog post, Susan Hauser, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Enterprise and Partner Group, said the tech titan "will show how technology is changing the retail industry and outline three things retailers need to do to take advantage of those technological innovations."

Those three things include the creation of "unified experiences across connected devices." She cited retailers using devices to augment the fitting room; enable in-store ordering; and provide mobile access to information as examples of how Microsoft's software can provide a next-gen shopping experience.

On the back end, "Microsoft technologies can bring real-time data to suppliers about what is currently in stock on a store shelf without requiring employees to do a physical inventory in the store," said Hauser. As a result, she asserted, stores can streamline operations and boost profitability, while allowing clerks to do what they do best: serve customers.

Finally, Microsoft is touting its enterprise social and productivity platforms, which after the company's acquisition of Yammer in 2012 for $1.2 billion, are inching closer toward becoming one and the same. "Many retailers are finding that engaged employees, using tools such as Office 365 and Yammer, are able to make more informed decisions on behalf of the customer—thereby creating better business results," wrote Hauser.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...