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152 www. t e c h n o l o g y r e c o r d . c om

F E ATUR E

Optimising

retail operations

Microsoft’s ShiSh Shridhar explores how advanced analytics, machine learning and the cloud

are driving optimisation and accurate demand-driven inventory and assortment planning

BY R E B E CCA G I B SON

U

nderstanding what customers want, how

much they want to pay and when they want

to buy products are key considerations for

retailers making inventory decisions, says ShiSh

Shridhar, Microsoft’s worldwide director for busi-

ness intelligence solutions.

“If retailers or consumer packaged goods

(CPGs) companies are regularly experiencing

out-of-stock situations on popular products

and overstocking on others that aren’t selling

well, then they’re clearly not in tune with what

consumers want and this will eventually cause

them to lose customers, sales and profit,” he

comments. “Factors like the weather and the

economy, as well as the age, gender, education

level and socio-economic status of customers

all have an impact on which products are most

popular in stores at particular times of the year.

It’s critical that retailers understand how these

different elements impact their sales so they

have the right number of the right products in

their stores at the right time.”

According to Shridhar, advanced analytics and

machine learning allow retailers and CPGs to get

real insights that enable them to quickly and eas-

ily predict consumer buying habits and deliver an

in-store and online product assortment to match.

“Traditionally, retailers had to rely on historic

sales and customer data to predict what products

would be most popular with their customers, but

as customer preferences and market trends change

quickly, these forecastswerenot always accurate,”he

remarks. “Today, they can use advanced analytics

to capture unstructured data from various sources,

including social media and customer review sites,

and mine it intelligently to find patterns and make

predictions that will ultimately help them to resolve

issues or optimise operations.”

Microsoft’s cloud-based Microsoft Advanced

Planning Solution enables buyers in retail andCPGs

to combine publicly available unstructured data

with their own structured operational and transac-

tion data. Advanced analytics and data visualisation

are powered by Microsoft’s Cortana Intelligence

Suite, Power BI and Azure Machine Learning.

According to Shridhar, the solution helps users

to optimise resources for demand forecasting,

inventory and assortment planning, churn pre-

dictions, price optimisation and much more.

“Cortana Intelligence Suite, for example, allows

retailers to pull streaming data from their POS

devices so they can monitor product sales during

promotional campaigns,” he says. “This informa-

tion can be combined with customer footfall data

captured by in-store sensors and internet of things

devices so retailers can make real-time updates to

the offer, target a new demographic, or move the

products to an area of the store where customer

footfall is significantly higher. Sensors are also

optimising the supply chain by allowing retailers

to quickly re-route products according to chang-

ing customer demand in different locations.”

“It’s critical that retailers

understand how

different elements

impact their sales”