Microsoft Industry Webinars: Sue McMahon and Scott Higley Discuss Retail and Unified Commerce

Presented by Microsoft and Sunrise Technologies





[00:00:03.08] - Sue McMahon
Hello, and thanks for joining us today for this session on Transforming Retail, sponsored by Sunrise Technologies and Microsoft. I'm Sue McMahon. I'm the Director of Partner Strategy for Retail and Consumer Goods globally at Microsoft. And joining me today, we have Scott Higley from Sunrise Technologies. Scott, why don't you tell us a little bit about Sunrise and what your role is there?

[00:00:25.01] - Scott Higley
Will do. Sunrise Technologies is a partner that works with a lot of different retailers, some that are newer to the retail footprint, maybe started digitally and went to brick and mortar or vice versa. And we help them with a variety of needs around the Microsoft stack and the technologies to support their business. I've really enjoyed this personally over the years. I've been with Sunrise nearly nine years now and got my start having conversations many years ago, I've done many deployments. In total, I think I'm around 200 retail stores that I help deploy solutions to. So it's been a good ride there.

[00:01:08.20] - Sue McMahon
Yeah, and I've encountered you during some of those deployment cycles as I've been in Microsoft. And before joining Microsoft about seven years ago, I also was a retail practitioner for many, many years at Macy's. So stores in my heart always will be. So it's great to have this conversation with you today. But interestingly enough, I recently attended Shop Talk, and the conversation now, as it should be, is around not multi-channels that we're transacting with or we're giving customers for product discovery, et cetera. It's really now about this unified experience and the fact that there should be only one channel, and that is the customer. Their experiences from whether they're in a store, whether they're on a digital property, whether they're on an e-commerce site, whether they're in social media, should all be very consistent across all those channels and should represent the retailer's brand. So really, really important topic at Shop Talk, and that's what we'll be diving into today. And let's start with what are some of the biggest challenges, Scott, that Sunrise is seeing retailers face in offering a truly unified commerce experience?

[00:02:16.29] - Scott Higley
Okay. No, I mean, that's a great question. I'm glad it's a key topic at Shop Talk. I think it's one that's super important. As a customer myself, I'm Scott, whether I'm buying online or I'm walking into a store to buy something. And my expectations have shifted over time with what the retailer can do or can't do to help service me in that experience. I think it can be very challenging to provide unified commerce experiences for customers for a variety of reasons. I think sometimes there's technology challenges, right? How do we get our CRM, our e-commerce, our point of sale, all to work together cohesively so that that same customer can be present across all those channels, regardless of which one they prefer at that moment in time. I think technology is obviously a big one. Sometimes I walk into situations where it's less technology, and it's some, how is the organization thinking about themselves? Were they focused in one channel first? And so they maybe started the e-commerce as an experiment, and as it's grown during the pandemic or such, have they restructured the organization to align incentives? Sometimes it's just too siloed, one channel versus the other.

[00:03:35.03] - Scott Higley
I think there's a lot of factors at play, but I'm curious, what were you hearing at Shop Talk? Have they talked about this in-depth there in other venues?

[00:03:45.05] - Sue McMahon
Yeah, a lot of conversation around unified commerce, as I said. But one thing I heard that impressed me very much was that this idea that's been around for probably a decade now and it just got completely blown out during the pandemic is that stores are dead, but actually it's that idea that's dead because stores are very much healthy. We're seeing the return of traffic to stores. We see in research around Gen Z that they like to touch and feel product. They want to do that before they make a purchase, even though they're really active across every digital channel that you can imagine and with influencers and all those things, but they want to touch and feel the product. So stores are just as important today as they were two decades when they were the only option or was very early time in e-commerce. I think that that's one interesting thing out of Shop Talk. In fact, there was an entire track devoted to stores and store experience and how to unify that with the digital and online experience. So that totally underscores exactly what you're saying. Retellers that are starting to do it well and really unify the experiences, I think of also post-purchase.

[00:04:56.26] - Sue McMahon
I think of call center. I think of I'm I'm making a phone call or I'm in a chat, and either the digital agent or the live agent doesn't have all the context around what my issue is. And that should be table stakes at this point, but we're still not connected on the back-end enough to make that happen. I think that's a really important activation channel that we have been overlooking up until now. Retailers have always had the aspiration, and all companies, I think, to turn their customer care centers into a profit rather than having it just be a cost center. For the first time now, I feel like with advances in AI capabilities, we're at the precipice of being able to do that, and we haven't been before. What are some of the things that Sunrise is seeing in terms of improving that unified experience for the consumer of retail?

[00:05:49.04] - Scott Higley
Yeah. No, I mean, it's funny you mentioned that. It wasn't too long ago that we got called in specifically for that use case. We have a call center that's traditionally just been available to answer questions and resolve a handful of issues. How do we convert them into a real profit center for the organization where they can service the customers, they can get sales that would have been lost otherwise? And it's very interesting you mentioned the AI component. I think that's becoming more prevalent in those conversations. As we look to these situations of we have a call center and we have all this disparate data, how do you make sense of it? And you can't do it after the fact. You're on the phone, You're servicing the customer. You need that information at your fingertips. So what we've seen customers really excited is how quickly they can pull in assistance. And as they're servicing a customer, quickly querying what others have dealt with, what are the related products or services that could tie into this situation. I think AI is making that more possible than it's ever been before. So I expect that to really improve significantly over time.

[00:06:58.12] - Scott Higley
And then to your first comment with Gen Z and their change, I think it's been really interesting. I see it in my own kids, and they love their screens, and the digital world is... They're so comfortable there. But I also think Gen Z, as much as their lives are digital, like you said, that physical appeal is so important. And it's to experience the products, but also the brand. Going to a store, you don't just see the products, right? You see what it means for that retailer. And that's where we see unique messaging come through. And a lot of these, the Gen Z and other generations, they want to go after products that matter, that they have this association with outside of the utility of the product. What is it the good the brand is doing? And what does that mean? So it's been really fascinating. I was in a conversation earlier this week with a client, went to their offices. And a lot of the conversation was, is we have these great customers, but we don't know a lot of them still. We are struggling because so many are used to being anonymous when they come through and they purchase from us.

[00:08:14.20] - Scott Higley
It's one of those traditional retailers that has hundreds of thousands of SKUs in their products, and people come in and go, right? So a lot of their conversation is, what do we need to do to appeal to those individuals so that they're willing to share their information and we're able to have a longer, more meaningful relationship with them through loyalty, et cetera. They're looking to us to say, What are the technologies that can help us in that endeavor?

[00:08:41.11] - Sue McMahon
Yeah, that's a great point, Scott. You mentioned earlier about data silos in the back-end that prohibit us from doing those types of things and really knowing our consumers and who they are and what their activities have been not only with us, but also what can we learn from any third-party data that we can get to, whether it be just anonymized to a certain segment, but we can apply it to that customer because we know he or she fits that segment. It's really important. I think one of the big risks of not having unified customer data is exactly that, is getting it wrong and making assumptions about a customer and how your brand voice, how you're talking to them, how you're engaging with them, and just have it be off. As a consumer and as a shopper myself, I'm sure you feel the same way, you know immediately when that's happening. One of the most painful things, I think, is when you make a purchase from a retailer, whether it be online or in a store, but you still get targeted with ads for that same item that you just purchased a week ago as you travassed the interwebs.

[00:09:43.11] - Sue McMahon
That, to me, is a sign of really disconnect data on the back-end and lack of a knowledge of the customer. I think that's one of the risks. Another one is, we were talking about call center, and you mentioned that AI could be a game changer in helping us do a better job. How many times... I know when I call a call center and I get a chatbot, I'm now thinking about ways I can get from the chatbot to a real agent because it's become more of a pain point than it's worth. With advances in generative AI and large language models, that truly is a game changer for so much of what we do every day, not just in retail and consumer goods, but certainly for call centers and certainly for online search. But again, if your data is not unified on the back-end, the LLM, Large Language Model, can only provide so much accuracy in the way it's answering queries.

[00:10:42.16] - Scott Higley
No, absolutely. I think those I'm like you. It's like star, star, zero, zero. I want to get to the person, but it's because it's just really insufficient the way they route you through that experience today. And I'm excited to see how AI makes that much more personable and real. I mean, that's one of the biggest intents behind LLMs, right? They're supposed to be able to say, what is the actual intent of what's being asked? And how do I actually service that based on information I have available? So that's going to be very powerful for a lot of people that are like us, trying to get to the people side of things as quickly as possible.

[00:11:21.23] - Sue McMahon
100%, yeah. And we've talked a little bit about what the landscape looks like, what the problems are, why it's so challenging. Unified commerce, unified retail experience, those are where the buzzwords are today and where the puck is moving. It's no longer omnichannel because, again, I said it, there's only one channel, it's the customer. But there's so many challenges to getting there. Let's talk a little bit about how solutions from Sunrise and even Microsoft by extension, because you are a valued partner that implements so many of the solutions that we have and adds capabilities on top of them that are really specific to retail and consumer goods. Let's talk a little bit about how Sunrise's solutions are helping to elevate the unified experience.

[00:12:07.10] - Scott Higley
No, absolutely. I think when we get into an engagement and try to understand where a retailer is at in their journey, because they're all in a journey towards this unified experience. Some of them maybe don't even realize how far they are from achieving that unified experience. I think there's lots of opportunities to improve. And like you said, get to where the puck is going to be. And so when we're in those conversations conversations, I think we like to start with what is the customer? What does the customer need? What does the customer expect? How are these different channels expected to cohesively serve that individual? And so we spend a lot of time, I think before we ever get to the solution moment, to say, what is the need here in the business? Recently, I was talking to a client who is investing a lot to just catch up with email marketing. But similar to what you were just saying, You can get inundated with all these emails already offering you products that you already purchase. It's just not relevant. My personal inbox is, jeez, it's like 80% ads that I'll never look at. So the question becomes, is email still alive?

[00:13:18.16] - Scott Higley
Is it still a good way to connect? Or what are the ways that we need to connect? And so what I think Microsoft is doing is looking at that from a very forward thinking perspective of these customers are going to need to be served across all kinds of channels. I've seen huge strides in a variety of tools to say, are we going to enable SMS for our customers? Are we going to enable better communications for them? There's been investments in the commerce solution that have been just absolutely essential to be able to serve them in the ways that they most want. I think Sunrise, what we've invested in for a long time has been, let's make sure that the core of why they're coming to the store to have and purchase a product, let's make sure that back-end is fully aligned with that goal. So we've invested a lot in a retail replenishment solution set, one that makes sure on top of all the standard functionality in dynamics, that the right product is in the right place at the right time. And it has a rule set engine to say, what are the expectations we have for the level of product in stores?

[00:14:24.13] - Scott Higley
And what does that look like? And how does that shift over time? Because we all know a lot of our retailers, they face seasonal constraints, sometimes as much busier than other times. And so we need to make sure that we have the right level of inventory. So we've done a lot on that front. And then as we're in these engagements, deploying the technology, there's been a lot We have interesting use cases that have come up where we've said... A client has come to us and said, We've had an issue with XYZ. For example, customer couldn't find what they were looking for on the shelves, and we're too slow to get product back in the shelves, or we're too slow in finding how we could get that inventory to that customer in a different way. And so we've done some things across Power Apps. Of course, there's standard functionality in the commerce toolset as well to look up inventory, see where it is at any place in your supply chain so that you can then move it to that end customer. We've had a couple of situations where we've looked to the Power platform, which is that really strong low-code/no-code solution set that allows us to really build a tailored mobile app or small solution to meet the need.

[00:15:37.07] - Scott Higley
I think retailers, they're not always looking for a huge solution. Sometimes they're looking for the small, the simple small problem so that they can create that meaningful experience.

[00:15:50.05] - Sue McMahon
Yeah, I couldn't agree with you more. And just to level set for those that might be watching this, Microsoft has a platform of business application solutions. We call it Dynamics 365. And what Scott's referring to is the fact that it is very composable. It has commerce components, it has sales and marketing components, it has finance and operations components, it has supply chain components. It's not meant necessarily as a rip and replace of an existing ERP or CRM, but it's really composable because you can plug in different aspects of it that will out of the box enable functionality. Like, for example, a real-time customer data platform is one example of that. Hand in hand, there's also something we call the Power Platform, which is low code, no code capabilities around building apps and workflows and virtual agents, those types of things that a partner like Sunrise Technologies is expert in building out bespoke use case level capabilities to whatever your backend is in terms of ERP/CRM, to be able to supplement that and solve for things that might be very difficult to customize a SaaS solution. But if you can extend it with low-code tools, you bring that much more value and that much more customer centricity to your business.

[00:17:08.00] - Sue McMahon
So all very, very important. I'll talk about from a Microsoft perspective, some of the things that we're doing in addition to what's available on our platforms. In Microsoft Cloud for Retail, one of the very first generative AI use cases that retailers went, This is Nirvana, was around the ability to Search and keyword search, and how we can transform keyword search into something more intuitive, more conversational, broader. For example, I'm hosting a birthday party for my eight-year-old daughter. She loves unicorns and rainbows. What do I need? Instead of going to multiple websites and searching for different products that might have a unicorn or might have some rainbows, generative AI Search can help bring all that together in one place. Again, in a conversational tone, I don't need to know a I don't need to think of the right keywords. I just need to be really descriptive. What we did was we built out a template, a copilot template for personalized shopping that's available in Microsoft Cloud for retail, that a partner can help the retailer extend to their specific use case, that the retailer themselves, if they have the data science and the data engineering resources at their disposal, can do the same so that it's reasoning over your data from your websites and your inventory and your pricing engines, all those things.

[00:18:29.23] - Sue McMahon
But it brings that layer, that semantic layer, that enables a copilot inside an e-commerce website or a consumer mobile app. Some of the things that we're doing is trying to democratize these tools, both through partners and directly to the retailers. So lots of work happening in that space. Stay tuned for more announcements coming soon.

[00:18:51.08] - Scott Higley
Yeah. Wow. I mean, that's very exciting. I think apart from asking your parents growing up, nowadays people are asking Bing, they're asking Google, and they're saying it like, help me with this exactly like you said. What gift should I get for my friend who's turning 15, 16, whatever. And so they're used to this type of question-based approaches to figuring out what they need to buy and how they need to do things. I'm excited for that. That's going to be a game changer. And it's expected to be it. Like you said, it's expected to be able to plug into the organization in the capacity they need. And I think that's the beauty of dynamic Dynamics 365, Microsoft approach to business applications or the Power Platform. It's all meant to be pulled in in the increments that make sense. Not every tool is supposed to be all encompassing in everything to every situation. You might need little things to move the needle forward. That's very cool.

[00:19:49.05] - Sue McMahon
That's absolutely right. In addition to the template I talked about, we've also built copilots into the various modules of Dynamics 365. So think about sales and marketing to create quick summaries of sales opportunities, leads, updates, even content generation, email generation, alerts. All of that can be built in, again, in a conversational tone where you ask the copilot the question instead of going to a website or Bing or Google or wherever and searching or trying to search on an internal SharePoint site or whatever the back-end may be to find information. It asks the question and the copilot brings the information to you in very digestible language. So no longer do you have to go through the first three pages of keyword search results because they're all ads to get to the real meat of what you're looking for or combine several different pieces of information. The copilot does that all for you.

[00:20:47.00] - Scott Higley
It's been great. And as a business professional, I've actually switched a lot of my searching from Google to Bing as of late because Bing has that native connectivity to all the workplace tools I use, Teams, Outlook, SharePoint, et cetera. I can do a search and it's surfacing documents that may be relevant in answering the question. So it's not only for our retailers, but all of the professionals that are going to be listening to this, there's so much power in Copilot to pull together things that matter to you when you need it.

[00:21:24.02] - Sue McMahon
Yeah. It's remarkable how Copilot is supercharging product creativity of business folks within companies all over the world, not just retail. Microsoft 365 Copilot, for example, pulls data from your calendar and your email and Teams chats and your SharePoint and any files that have been shared with you or data that you have access to throughout the organization and pulls it back into a cohesive, coherent response that you can do something with. So yes, it's an exciting time to be in retail, and it's exciting a time to be with a technology company like Microsoft.

[00:22:03.01] - Scott Higley
Absolutely. I feel like very soon I'm going to be like, How can I even live without this? It's not going to be exciting and new. It's going to feel completely necessary and standard. And that's what Microsoft, they're investing so much to make this a reality.

[00:22:18.26] - Sue McMahon
Yeah, I totally understand. I know from my perspective that our enterprise copilot sits open in my window all day long. And whenever I have a question that I would have normally gone out, and I also use Bing, but I would have normally gone out and search Bing, I just type it in to compile it, and I tell it, do I want information from my work or do I want information from the web? I give it those expansive directions and it comes right back. So exciting times.

[00:22:44.08] - Scott Higley
No, absolutely. Yeah.

[00:22:46.07] - Sue McMahon
So, Scott, thanks again so much today for spending time with us and demystifying what capabilities we have at Microsoft that Sunrise extends so brilliantly and how they can help retailers solve some of these challenges of becoming more unified in their proposition to their customers. Really appreciate the partnership with Sunrise. And thanks to all of you for joining us and viewing this. If anyone is interested in being put in contact with Sunrise technologies, simply reach out to your Microsoft representative, and we will cook you up. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you, Scott.

[00:23:24.04] - Scott Higley
No, thank you, too, Sue.