Through equal parts serendipity, technical acumen, and competitive spit and vinegar, Microsoft has been killing it in the retail space lately. Traditional retailers fighting to digitally transform their businesses and fight the disruptive encroachment of Amazon have been looking for cloud solutions from anybody but AWS. Microsoft has been happy to oblige with its Azure capabilities, but that’s really just the foot in the door. Microsoft’s been truly leveraging this opportunity to build up a formidable retail digital transformation practice that’s moving way beyond simply spinning up servers.
We’re starting to see the fruits of its labor in a number of key collaborative partnerships announced over the last couple of months, as Microsoft is working with these companies to not only build out their cloud platforms but their entire complement of digital capabilities to help them completely reinvent the shopping experience for their customers from the mobile screen to in the store.
It’s only natural for Walmart to team up with Microsoft as it seeks to go toe-to-toe with Amazon. The company has been beating the anti-AWS drum loudly since mid-2017 when news broke that it was telling its tech vendors they needed to start weaning themselves off of AWS. Since then Microsoft and Walmart have been binding themselves closer and closer in a number of collaborative ventures. Last November the companies announced a new ‘cloud factory’ innovation center that’ll have dozens of Microsoft and Walmart working together in the same space to not only help modernize Walmart’s application portfolio, but to also fold in more advanced AI, IoT, and analytics capabilities to help support its efforts to build out omnichannel customer experience.
Last year as part of the announcement by Gap Inc. that it was engaging in a multi-year digital transformation, the clothing retailer said it’d be working with Microsoft to help it migrate inventory, in-store and ecommerce systems to the Azure cloud while also layering in AI and machine learning services. Gap said it was leaning on Microsoft to help support DevOps processes to more rapidly deliver applications across the business.
“Azure is going to play a very, very big role for us to be able to scale our business seamlessly,” said Gap’s CTO Rathi Murthy of the partnership.
At the start of the year Kroger and Microsoft said they’d be teaming up to pilot what the largest grocery chain in the US hopes will become the food store of the future. The two companies are jointly developing retail technology connected by IoT sensors running on Azure to create a new retail-as-a-service (RaaS) product that will support things like smart shelves, register-free proximity payment, faster curbside pickup, and advanced in-store navigation and product discovery for customers looking to get in and out of the grocery store.
Kroger isn’t the only grocer on Microsoft’s dance card, either. Just recently, Albertsons and Microsoft stepped up to discuss how the gurus in Redmond are helping the second-largest US grocer digitally transform its business and reduce consumer friction in stores.
“We are reimagining the future to serve customers in a way they want to interact with us across all channels,” said Anuj Dhanda , executive vice president and chief information officer at Albertsons, explaining that it’ll lean on Microsoft through cognitive technologies and data science to transform customer experience in stores and digitally.
Both the Kroger and Albertsons deals are natural reactions to Amazon’s huge investments in the grocery world through its acquisition of Whole Foods and its piloting of Amazon GO stores.
Also among Microsoft’s retail partnership announcements is news of a collaboration with Walgreens Boots Alliance that is as much a play for healthcare dominance as it is for retail. Walgreens is working with Microsoft to build out an entire network of new partners on the healthcare scene that’ll duke it out with CVS Health after it’s Aetna purchase and with Amazon as it goes heavy into healthcare through its partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase announced last year.
The companies reported that Microsoft would be helping Walgreens connect its stores systems with health information systems at the provider level and with customer devices to offer more seamless services like virtual care.