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Microsoft and Salesforce step up smart store retail tech

The tech giants are quickly evolving their technologies aimed at the brick and mortar commerce market, with new software for smart store analytics, CX and retail associates.

Microsoft and Salesforce have accelerated their push into next-generation retail store tech with new systems designed for smart stores, customer and employee experience as well as digital advertising.

While e-commerce accounts for nearly a quarter of retail sales worldwide and continues to grow, the tech giants' sustained push into retail store tech shows that physical retail stores remain vital.

During the retail industry's biggest gathering last week, NRF 2023, Microsoft and Salesforce introduced new tech capabilities aimed at physical retail stores.

Automated store technology

Microsoft calls its latest foray into sales "resilient retail." The new tech emphasizes customer experience in stores by providing employees more digital tools and aims to combat supply chain disruptions.

As part of this push, Microsoft -- in partnership with autonomous store operator AiFi -- released Smart Store Analytics, a computer vision-powered system that helps automated stores track shopping behavior from product discovery up to purchase.

Available on the Microsoft Cloud for Retail platform, Smart Store Analytics also lets smart store operators glean new signals and insights about customer behavior to better optimize store layout and product recommendations, the vendor said.

New Salesforce retail tools

Salesforce introduced new capabilities in its Retail Media and Commerce Cloud platforms as well.

They include tools to unify unconnected data fields, formats, dimensions and columns in first-party data; use automation and custom workflows to streamline advertiser relationships and accelerate sales; and deliver actionable insights and timely reporting to optimize campaigns, according to Salesforce.

Both tech giants have refined their BOPIS (buy online and pick up in store) strategies. Microsoft's resilient retail campaign and Salesforce's new advertising tools promise to give retailers more cloud-based agility, said Dan Miller, an analyst at Opus Research.

They are both putting customer experience and collection of customer data at the forefront, just as they have to do in their contact centers.
Dan MillerAnalyst, Opus Research

Along with banking and healthcare providers, retailers recognize the benefit of providing consistent and personalized services. Microsoft and Salesforce, with their new capabilities, are giving retailers the tools to treat both online and offline interactions as part of their ongoing relationships with customers, Miller said.

"They are both putting customer experience and collection of customer data at the forefront, just as they have to do in their contact centers," he said. "Making sure first-party data makes it into the data repositories so that consistent, personalized service can be provided across all channels and touchpoints puts cloud-based offerings at the forefront."

Microsoft's Store Operations Assist mobile app gives employees a single hub that provides real-time analytics and reports on such things as inventory availability, spot promo offers and customer service issues.

Salesforce's new Commerce Cloud tech for retail, in partnership with Mad Mobile and Stripe, allows merchants to use Salesforce Payments as their payment service provider in physical stores, Mad Mobile for point of sale and Stripe Terminal hardware for payments.

Salesforce also augmented its Composable Storefront digital storefront designer tool with a new API, analytics and dashboards to personalize customer experiences.

The CRM and CX vendor also beefed up its Salesforce Genie Customer Data Cloud with the new CDP Azure Storage Connector to let retailers import data from Microsoft Azure into the Genie cloud.

Salesforce-Walmart, partnerships

During NRF, Salesforce and retail giant Walmart rolled out a partnership to provide BOPIS services at Walmart stores. It includes the ability to manage local deliveries and makes order management more efficient using new tools built by Walmart Commerce Technologies and Salesforce's Commerce Cloud and Order Management platforms.

The two tech giants' recent retail campaigns address CRM and retail management system issues, such as inventory management, store automation and logistics. But the vendors still need to better coordinate with other vendors in the retail ecosystem, Miller said.

"Both companies will always have work to do to define connectors, APIs and related partnerships with other solution providers," he said. "To support innovation, that need will never go away."

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