Reimagining retail: dunnhumby’s Will Adcock talks to Microsoft’s Shelley Bransten

dunnhumby and Microsoft have been on something of a journey together over the past couple of years. In early 2020, we announced plans to bring our customer insight products to Microsoft Azure, a partnership that was further cemented by the launch of our dunnhumby Model Lab product, along with flagship products dunnhumby Shop and dunnhumby Assortment on the platform. And just a few months ago, we were thrilled to be one of the launch partners for Microsoft’s Cloud for Retail solution.

Naturally, we’re always keen to learn more about the issues that are shaping the retail landscape, and so I was delighted when Shelley Bransten – the company’s Worldwide Corporate Vice President, consumer goods & retail industries – agreed to join me for an episode of dunnhumby’s Alliances and Partnerships podcast. Here, in abridged form, are some of the highlights from that discussion.

Will Adcock (WA): So, Shelley, let’s start with a little about you and your background. How did you get into tech?

Shelley Bransten (SB): Really, I grew up in the retail industry. I grew up in a family coffee business, so I spent a lot of time in and around supermarkets when I was younger. I always joke that I knew what a supermarket end cap was before I could throw a baseball or do a cartwheel. I then spent 20 years running CRM, digital, marketing, and ecommerce for Gap Inc. and all of its brands.

While my background hasn’t always been specifically in technology, though, I’ve always been deeply excited about data and what it can do for the retail industry. So, in our partnership with dunnhumby, I see huge potential because I think there is a real opportunity to reshape the future of retail and consumer goods.

WA: Speaking of which, why would you say that retail is so important to Microsoft?

SB: Well at a very broad level, there’s the sheer scale of the industry. Retail is one of the largest drivers of the worldwide economy, accounting for over 30% of global GDP. That’s stunning. And when you have an industry of that size, the technological footprint is obviously quite profound. Retail generates 40 petabytes of data every single hour, so as a technology company it’s naturally an area in which we’re deeply invested.

On top of that, though, Microsoft is a retailer itself, and so we’re acutely aware of some of the challenges facing our customers. We support 92 out of the top 100 retailers in the world, and that’s a huge opportunity for us to learn more about their experiences. They’re teaching us how to build the technology they need to run their business and transform for the future.

WA: And I guess you get a lot in the way of frontline learnings from those customers as well. What are they telling you in terms of the trends that are shaping the future of retail?

SB: For sure. There’s a lot and it’s complicated. The industry’s clock speed just keeps on getting faster and faster. But one thing is for sure – we’re seeing a high-level of digital optimism where the Microsoft cloud is playing an outsized role in key areas (re)defining the future of this wonderful industry. That’s everything from hybrid work to supply chain resiliency, sustainability to cybersecurity and more. If I had to pick a few big themes that I hear time and time again from retail leaders I talk to I would say:

  1. The Store – We’re seeing a big focus on the store for instance, with issues like contactless, ship from store, and dark stores playing a big role. The future of loyalty is starting to shift as well, with a much bigger emphasis on understanding lifetime value through data.
  1. Supply Chain – many referred to 2021 as the year of the supply chain (or pain). There’s a lot of investment going into making the supply chain more agile right now, and the same is happening from a fulfilment point of view – from curbside pickup all the way through to drone delivery.
  1. ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) – not a retail leader I speak to who doesn’t ask about this, the work we are doing at Microsoft and our Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability solution.
  1. Employee wellbeing – Retail always has been and always will be a people business with many employed on retail’s frontline. If ever there was any doubt about the importance of retail’s frontline, then their herculean efforts during the past 2 years have put those doubts to rest. But people are burned out and we need to do more to help frontline workers stay safe, healthy and motivated.

So yes, there are lots of different issues starting to gather pace right now, but when you look at what’s at the core of them, it all goes back to technology helping to reinvent the way that retailers serve their customers.

WA: And that’s something that requires a certain amount of agility, particularly around digital capability, of course. I guess you must see a real sliding scale of maturity in that area?

SB: We absolutely do. And one of the important things for us is having a partner ecosystem that allows us to support our customers in the right way. That ecosystem is constantly evolving, but it’s rooted around the critical opportunities and workflows that allow them to realize their transformation and innovation agendas.

So, our ecosystem is really built up around the priority scenarios in each industry. In retail, I think that comes down to things like knowing your customer, empowering your employees, delivering in an intelligent supply chain and then, as I mentioned, reimagination and reinvention. Those are the kinds of areas in which we want to deliver value.

WA: And I guess one of the considerations there is that, while we’re talking about reinvention on the customer side, we – dunnhumby and Microsoft – need to be able to keep up as those priority scenarios evolve as well.

SB: For sure. As our customers’ needs change, we are going to need to change as well. But what I think will remain the same, and this goes back to where I started, is that part of the answer is always going to come back to putting data science in the everyday workflow of retailers and their suppliers.

I think that as much as things continue to move on, that central idea is going to be one of the constants that shapes the future of the industry. And that’s one of the reasons that I’m so incredibly excited about this partnership.

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