LAS VEGAS — Microsoft isn’t as visible as Google or Amazon at CES this year, choosing to mostly lay low behind the scenes, schmooze with partners and hold small gatherings to display its latest offerings. The tech giant held a device showcase event for a group of partners and media this year, and one thing that stood out among the rows of computers and gadgets was a display dedicated to work Microsoft and its partners are doing to help retailers modernize.
Retail has emerged as an important industry for Microsoft, with the tech giant establishing itself as a technology alternative to Amazon Web Services for companies reluctant to do business with Amazon. This week, Microsoft and Kroger announced plans for new technologies to streamline the process of finding and purchasing items in traditional grocery stores, the latest in a string of retail partnerships for the tech giant.
“Retailers, never more urgently, are seeking to transform,” said Dinesh Narayanan, director of partner channel and marketing at Microsoft. “We see data showing that $36 billion will be spent by retailers on IoT solutions in next 3 years, and about 70 percent of retailers are seeking to implement IoT solutions over the next four years.
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At its event Wednesday, Microsoft showed off the smart shelves it is developing with Kroger that have digital displays that update prices dynamically and show personalized icons to help shoppers find items. In a faux Microsoft Store setting, Microsoft also displayed a series of e-ink tags with QR codes so customers can learn more about the items.
A program called Microsoft Synchronized Shopping aims to bridge the gap of digital and physical retail, an experience Narayanan says is “often broken.” It attaches a code to an item in the store that communicates with the company website. That way, customers looking at the site can see if an item is in stock and available to demo.
“This is something we created to make sure that customer journey was smooth and make sure that when we have a customer who is interested they can go experience the product and purchase the product in one seamless motion,” Narayanan said.
In addition to its own work, Microsoft showed how companies are using its cloud services to simplify and evolve retail. A Utah startup called Skip that runs on Microsoft Azure makes an app for stores and customers that turns smartphones into scanners to ring up and pay for items.
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Then there’s the back end. Microsoft also gave examples of companies using its services to track inventory and manage last mile deliveries.
Though Microsoft didn’t announce any new initiatives at the event, the prominence it gave to retail is another example of its push into the industry. In addition to Kroger, Microsoft recently agreed to a major partnership with Walmart last year that will include a joint engineering center to work on IT and IoT solutions.