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Bridging the omnichannel gap in retail with Dynamics 365

Omnichannel has been around for more than a decade now, so it might be surprising to realize that there are still gaps in a strategy that has become table stakes for most retailers. The gap that does exist presents a lack of clarity about what omnichannel retail is and the inability of organizations to deliver…

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Omnichannel has been around for more than a decade now, so it might be surprising to realize that there are still gaps in a strategy that has become table stakes for most retailers. The gap that does exist presents a lack of clarity about what omnichannel retail is and the inability of organizations to deliver on the strategy. With retail in the midst of one the largest transformations we have seen in decades, many organizations are trying to understand where to start bridging the gap between traditional and modern retail experiences. Microsoft Dynamics 365 brings together a unique set of capabilities and services that allow retailers to streamline buying experiences for customers across channels while empowering organizations to gain a deeper understanding and ownership of their sales, operations, and customer data. 

Disconnected data disrupts the modern buying journey

The lack of unified data in a retailer’s current systems still proves to be a significant roadblock to providing omnichannel experiences to consumers. Like many retailers, the U.S. national retailer GNC, which specializes in health and nutrition-related products, also struggled with disconnected data across its systems. This meant, among other things, that GNC found it challenging to provide a single source of truth about its customers that would allow them to communicate efficiently and effectively. The siloed data affected customer communications, but it also kept the retailer from gaining real-time insights into things like customer preferences and inventory.

The ultimate solution for GNC and for any business looking to leverage data across systems is to use a single collection of data automatically updated across applications in real-time. This is one reason why GNC deployed Dynamics 365.

“With Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, we’re going to have a single, reliable view of each customer that updates in real-time…We’ll use the AI capabilities in Customer Insights to better define our customer segments and ensure that every customer gets the right communication at the right time.”—Lauren Mannetti, Vice President, Marketing, GNC.

Microsoft also continues to help retailers adjust to customer needs with tools like intuitive customer segmentation and experimentation capabilities. Dynamics 365 Commerce enables organizations to increase customer engagement and satisfaction by using tools in e-commerce site builder to target specific customer segments with different experiences based on the shopper’s device, geo-location, and other dynamically derived attributes from their browser request.

Regardless of the solution you choose, you need to be able to pinpoint a customer all the way through their journey, from browsing online to asking each customer for feedback. Increasingly, retailers will be tasked with offering ever-more personalized experiences—and that requires sophisticated and connected data that overcomes the limitation of siloed separate systems.

Complexity of legacy solutions

Many businesses have invested heavily in their current legacy solutions. Rightly so, most wish to maximize the benefit of these investments. Unfortunately, businesses can end up dealing with the complexity of their existing systems far longer than necessary as they attempt to avoid investing in a new unified solution. Sometimes, though, adding additional visibility and integration on top of existing solutions works well to address this problem without having to scrap the current systems being run for separate functions.

This is how Khaadi, a large Pakistani fashion retailer, figured out how to get its complex incumbent solutions to work together to keep operations going during the pandemic. It needed to be able to integrate data so that it could continue selling in-store inventory online during pandemic shutdowns.

To make this pivot, the company chose Microsoft Power Apps, which helps companies build custom apps that connect existing data, to create the brand’s integrated sales services in-house. Then, three months later, the company scaled the roll out ten times with the help of Dynamics 365 Commerce to make these capabilities—and more—part of its new operating norm.

“It’s incredible because we know of some similar retail businesses who started their omnichannel journey 14 to 15 months back but have not yet implemented similar capabilities.”—Muhammad Rehan Qadri, Chief Information Officer, Khaadi.

Using Microsoft Power Apps coupled with Dynamics 365 Commerce allowed the company to continue using its existing systems by allowing those systems to better “talk to each other” and leverage the data across them. This provides a solution that many other retailers can turn to make immediate use of their data that otherwise is isolated in separate systems—without replacing those systems.

Inability to adapt to changing customer habits

Another roadblock to providing omnichannel experiences is an inability to adapt to changing customer needs. This can result from a business that isn’t using the right technology to streamline operations and connect all of its data. The need to streamline backend operations is just as critical to customer experience when the goal is being able to adapt to rapidly changing customer behaviors and habits.

Now, more than ever, consumers seek out reviews and social proof before making a purchase. In fact, social commerce sales in the U.S. were an estimated $36.62 billion in 2021.1 It is not surprising then that businesses without the technology infrastructure required to connect these new sources of demand and customer intelligence may fall behind.

Dynamics 365 enables retailers to easily adjust and meet customers where they are through a common data model and a natively headless commerce engine. Easily connect with customers on new and emerging platforms to ensure your business stays competitive and relevant in an ever more competitive retail environment.

Along with this, it is essential for retailers to be able to automatically track reviews across platforms, monitor them, and automate the solicitation of reviews from customers through post-shipping emails and other such activities. Also, monitoring and identifying how specific customers respond to social storytelling requires deep data that connects across platforms. This is another area where Dynamics 365 Commerce can help.

Learn more in our recent blog, Exceed customer expectations with seamless and unified commerce experiences.

Increased demands and customer expectations

Consumers today understand that retailers can capture data of how, what, when, and where they make purchases. Not only do they understand this point, but they also expect it. This is one reason retailers face increased demands to understand consumers better and personalize experiences accordingly.

An area where customer expectations have evolved and increased is the desire for convenience. According to the National Retail Federation, 97 percent of consumers have backed out of a purchase because it was inconvenient to them.2  This can be seen by the popularity of curbside pickup, next-day delivery, and easy returns. Yet even though businesses can lose sales if they inconvenience consumers, many companies are still challenged to provide the options that customers have come to expect.

Retailers like Aubainerie are using Dynamics 365 to improve customer experience and personalize customer engagements across channels. The company’s apparel designers are using Dynamics 365 Commerce combined with Dynamics 365 Customer Insights to include more product information for staff and customers at the point of purchase. They are also able to fine-tune their understanding of customer needs to deliver more personal customer buying experiences and exceed customer expectations.  

“We can designate activity filters in Dynamics 365 and then plan in advance for e-commerce and in-store displays based on those data points, which improves our omnichannel capabilities.”—Simon Jacobsen, Director of e-commerce, Aubainerie.

For companies to offer these convenience features to customers and meet the expectations for personalized and relevant shopping experiences, retailers can look to Dynamics 365 to help bridge the omnichannel gap for long-term business success.

Learn more in our blog, Deliver personalized customer engagement with Dynamics 365.

What’s next

We’re ready to help you evaluate the best ways to unify and connect data by leveraging technology to overcome these four major roadblocks so that you can bridge the omnichannel gap in retail. To see how Dynamics 365 can help your retail business succeed, see how you can get started with Dynamics 365 or give our Dynamics 365 Commerce free trial a try today.

Sources:

1- eMarketer, 2021. Social commerce surpasses $30 billion in the US.

2- National Retail Federation, 2020. Consumer View Winter 2020: Convenience and the Consumer. January 14, 2020.

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Facebook: Recognizing Global Accessibility Awareness Day

As an avid outdoor enthusiast and firefighter, Carly P. has always loved being active. After a life-changing injury paralyzed her from the waist down, she felt lost. Carly recaptured her passion for being outside and found a community of people like her through the nonprofit organization Catalyst Sports. Now, she uses Catalyst Sports’ Facebook page…

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As an avid outdoor enthusiast and firefighter, Carly P. has always loved being active. After a life-changing injury paralyzed her from the waist down, she felt lost. Carly recaptured her passion for being outside and found a community of people like her through the nonprofit organization Catalyst Sports. Now, she uses Catalyst Sports’ Facebook page to spread awareness and share local recreational opportunities for people with physical disabilities.

In addition to providing community to people with disabilities, we’re also working to make the digital world more accessible. 

We will demonstrate our latest accessibility features today at our annual Accessibility Summit. Join us at 10:00AM PT for this livestream on the Meta Accessibility Facebook Page. In addition to product demos and updates, we will host an interview with Molly Burke, a digital creator and blind advocate.

Through a video series on the Meta Accessibility Facebook Page, we’re highlighting how people with disabilities connect and build communities through our technologies, much like Carly. We’ve created both the captioned and audio described versions of these stories.

Today, we’re recapping advances we’ve made over the past year to make our technologies more inclusive. 

Meta Quest

  • Audio Accessibility
    • Audio balance: This option enables you to adjust the balance of the left and right audio channels for comfort, and to better match your ability to hear in each ear. 
    • Mono Audio enables you to hear the same audio from both the left and right speakers on your headset. 
    • You’ll find both features under the Accessibility tab in your headset’s Settings menu.

Product mock of audio accessibility on Meta Quest

  • Adjust Height  
    • This feature allows you to experience VR from a “standing” vantage point even while reclining or seated. This can improve the VR experience for people who use wheelchairs, have limited mobility or are unable to use the Quest headset while standing. 
    • We first introduced this as an experimental feature (called Raise View) last June and have now made it permanent after receiving positive feedback from the disability community. 
    • You can find this feature in the Accessibility tab in Quest’s Settings menu.

Portal

  • Video relay service (VRS)
    • In December, we began supporting video relay service (VRS) applications on Portal  for people who use American Sign Language (ASL), through a collaboration with ZP Better Together.
    • Through the ZP apps on Portal and human interpreters, people who use American Sign Language can now easily communicate in both English and Spanish. 
    • Portal’s unique AI-powered camera always keeps you in frame and in focus, even when you’re moving, so your face and hands can always be seen.
  • Captions
    • We’ve also added customizable closed captions for streamed content on TV and Touch, as well as added support for live captions into integrated work productivity apps Zoom and Workplace Live.

Instagram

  • Auto-generated captions for Feed videos
    • In March, we introduced auto-generated captions for Feed videos on iOS and Android in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic, Vietnamese, Italian, German, Turkish, Russian, Thai, Tagalog, Urdu, Malay, Hindi and Japanese to start. 
    • More importantly, captions are automatically turned on by default when a creator uploads a video to their Feed. Over 140 million videos were created with auto-generated captions in the last 30 days.
    • Creators retain the ability to turn captions off when they choose and viewers can turn captions on or off using on-screen controls.

Product mock of Instagram auto-generated captions

Stickers on Facebook and Messenger

  • We added alt text descriptions to the more than 10,000 stickers available on Facebook and Messenger, making it possible for people who are blind and visually impaired to understand and use them. 

Avatars

  • Earlier this year, we introduced the ability to have your same avatar across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Quest. 
  • There are also new avatar options, including over-the-ear hearing aids and cochlear implants in addition to more face shapes, skin tones, expressions, and stickers. 
  • Wheelchairs are now available as stickers on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger so your avatar can better represent who you are or who you want to be.

Product mock of accessibility features of Avatars

Open Source

  • Lexical is a JavaScript framework built to improve text editing on Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger and Workplace, with accessibility as a priority. 
  • In April, Lexical was released into open source to allow the rest of the world to benefit from these improvements. 
  • With this new framework, people can express their ideas in text via dictation, and readers can experience character-by-character navigation — a feature previously unavailable in similar editors.

Reality Labs Research

  • We’re exploring how improvements in audio quality can enable more realistic presence and perceptual superpowers in augmented and virtual reality— technological advancements that can also help us hear better in noisy environments. 
  • Our team of hearing scientists is also exploring how to reencode sound and present it through closed captioning.
  • While this is still early research, we are excited to learn more about how emerging audio technologies can improve the lives of people with hearing loss. 

Image showing audio research

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Facebook: Announcing New Products to Make Business Messaging Easier

The way people and businesses communicate is changing. One billion people message with a business each week on WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram Direct — whether it’s DMing brands, browsing product catalogs, asking for support, or interacting with stories. This consumer behavior is accelerating and it’s changing how business gets done. Today at Conversations, our inaugural…

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The way people and businesses communicate is changing. One billion people message with a business each week on WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram Direct — whether it’s DMing brands, browsing product catalogs, asking for support, or interacting with stories. This consumer behavior is accelerating and it’s changing how business gets done. Today at Conversations, our inaugural business messaging event, we discussed how messaging is transforming interactions between people and businesses, and announced new products to make conversations easier.

Introducing Cloud-based API on the WhatsApp Business Platform

Today, Mark Zuckerberg announced we’re opening up the new, cloud-based version of the WhatsApp Business Platform, hosted by Meta, to any business across the world. With this new API, we’re offering free, secure cloud hosting services so businesses and developers can easily access our service within minutes, build directly on top of WhatsApp to customize their experience and increase their response time for their customers. So now, whether a business wants to work with one of our 100+ partners or access our service directly, it will be much faster to get up and running on WhatsApp.

When growing a business, you need smart, robust and easy-to-use conversation tools. For smaller businesses using the WhatsApp Business app, we’re building tools so it’s easier to handle an influx of chats as they grow their customer base. 

Launching Recurring Notifications on Messenger

Today we’re announcing a new way for businesses to keep the conversation going with Recurring Notifications. As businesses acquire new customers and begin to scale operations, there’s incredible opportunity to build loyalty and trust — and we believe this is where the value of messaging really shines. This new capability makes it easy to re-engage people right in the messaging thread and deliver tailored messaging at the best time for customers, whether to hear about special promotions, new product drops or tips and tricks.

You can choose the topics you’d like to let people opt-in to, how often customers can hear from you and shape your content, so your messages are always on-brand and relevant. Recurring notifications will also be available for businesses on Instagram this fall.

We also highlighted our click-to-message ads to help customers immediately start conversations with businesses, our CRM platform Kustomer and Meta Business Suite for higher volumes of messages across Facebook, Messenger and Instagram. Read more about our product investments in business messaging on our Meta for Developers blog.

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Facebook: Introducing New Members of the Oversight Board

Today, Meta welcomes the newest members of the Oversight Board who have just been appointed — Paolo Carozza, Khaled Mansour, and Pamela San Martin. Per the Oversight Board Bylaws, we worked together with the board to identify and select these members over the last few months. Over the next few months we will continue to…

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Today, Meta welcomes the newest members of the Oversight Board who have just been appointed — Paolo Carozza, Khaled Mansour, and Pamela San Martin.

Per the Oversight Board Bylaws, we worked together with the board to identify and select these members over the last few months. Over the next few months we will continue to support and work with the board to select additional members. The new members reflect a wide range of views and experiences, and will bring a variety of perspectives to the board’s existing expertise.

The Oversight Board represents a unique model for social media governance. From its inception, we knew its impact would come not just from its decisions on individual cases, but also from broader recommendations on how we can improve our policies and processes. In the time since they began hearing cases and issuing decisions and recommendations, they’ve been playing a bigger role in setting precedent and direction for our content policies and how we enforce them.  We look forward to welcoming the new board members into this process.

We will update this Newsroom Post as additional members are appointed. We are grateful to all board members for lending their expertise to our content moderation efforts.

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