Microsoft has announced the launch of Microsoft Cloud for Retail, in another sign of the largest cloud providers targeting specific industries and sectors.
The announcement, which was made at NRF 2021, the annual retail jamboree, aims to help brands enable what Microsoft calls ‘intelligent retail’.
As Shelley Bransten, corporate vice president for worldwide retail and consumer goods at Microsoft noted, this involves “using digital solutions to help better know customers, to empower employees in new ways, deliver an agile and resilient supply chain to meet customers where they are, and ultimately help reimagine the future of [the] retail business.”
Microsoft said it saw four trends in retail which Covid-19 accelerated in 2020 and which, more importantly, will continue in 2021. The first focuses around data explosion and utilisation, with 90% of retail data being unstructured. Secondly, sustainability and eCommerce is still top of mind for consumers. Third is loyalty – trying new brands amid the pandemic was commonplace – while fourth, perhaps unsurprisingly given Microsoft’s position, is the pushing of partnerships.
Microsoft Cloud for Retail, which is now in private preview, will utilise various products, from Azure and Microsoft 365, to Dynamics and Microsoft Power Platform, which links applications together.
“By bringing together disparate data sources across the retail value chain, we will enable retailers to realise the true value of their data by enriching core business processes and turning data into actionable insights,” added Bransten. “Our rich partner ecosystem will extend the value of the platform with retail-specific solutions to address the industry’s most urgent challenges, and future-proofing retail organisations to proactively be ready for what’s next.”
Microsoft had previously launched Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare in October, as well as Azure for Operators, an industry-specific offering for the telecoms space, in September.
Retail, like telecoms and health, is another very competitive area for the largest cloud providers. Google Cloud, the widely considered third player behind Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft, made a slew of announcements at last year’s NRF, including an expansion of its retail acceleration program.
In September, analyst Canalys named Google Cloud as the best cloud service provider for retail. The company cited Google’s strength in advertising and search, as well as its aggressive hiring in the sector, as key.