Our Data & Analytics team explores key features, business benefits, industry applications, and technical capabilities of Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite.

Blog seven of a series.

Retailers have historically been faced with many challenges in the areas of inventory management, pricing strategies, omnichannel integration, fast and consistent service, and customer targeting. Those challenges have only increased with technological advances.

On the other end, customers are more empowered than ever before. They are more informed. Increasingly mobile. Expect high-speed service across sales channels. And, they’re not as trusting as they once were.

This has pressured retailers to develop new customer engagement models that deliver personalized, contextual and connected experiences and information to their customers. A common example includes providing recommendations on similar or complimentary items based on past purchases or browsing activity. Use of personalized merchandising techniques have helped some retailers to increase the conversion rate dramatically.

For in-store experiences, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors can be used to help identify customer-product interactions, providing insight into how customers navigate the store, what they buy and when they buy it. This information can be used to display product-specific advertisements in real-time. This information can also be used for retailers to improve store layouts and product assortments to optimize sales.

As the consumer marketplace becomes more and more digitized, retailers have realized they will struggle and be unable to compete without advanced analytics capabilities. That’s where Microsoft Cortana comes in.

Microsoft Cortana Unlocks Value of Data for Retailers

Microsoft’s Cortana Intelligence Suite provides cost-effective tools and technology services for retailers to quickly build predictive analytics solutions utilizing real-time and big data streams from multiple systems, applications, POS and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, as well as social media platforms.

Cortana can help retailers build solutions that unlock the value of their data, empowering them to:

  • Forecast sales
  • Understand and predict customer churns
  • Push real-time recommendations to cross-sell and up-sell
  • Classify customers
  • Optimize pricing and promotions
  • Improve personalization and increase customer value
  • Enhance inventory management and distribution

Because it uses the Microsoft Azure cloud-based computing platform, Cortana provides the ability to collect real-time retail transactions across multiple sales channels from thousands, or even millions, of devices. Cortana’s Azure Stream Analytics and Azure Machine Learning capabilities allow gigabytes per second of streaming data to be processed, aggregated, analyzed, and enriched with historical and/or predictive model values and trends.

Advanced analytics and insight into real-time activity can then be delivered using Microsoft’s data visualization tools such as Power BI to deliver dashboards for traditional and mobile personal computing devices.

How Retail Institutions Can Benefit from Cortana

In today’s connected world, retail institutions seek to provide customers with well-timed, targeted and relevant experiences to drive sales and increase brand reputation. Likewise, expediting customer service by enabling interaction when, where and how the customer prefers is key to fostering retailer preference and loyalty.

Cortana can leverage customer demographics, past purchase history, what the customer has been browsing online, and social media activity to help understand customer’s purchasing preferences and patterns. Cortana’s Microsoft R and Azure Machine Learning services can use this information to create buyer propensity models. They also use binary classification algorithms such as logistic regression and boosted decision trees to predict which customers are most likely to buy certain products.

Additionally, Cortana’s Cognitive Services Recommendation APIs help create Frequently Bought Together (FBT) recommendations, item-to-item recommendations, or personalized user recommendations. These recommendations and propensity models can push automated alerts and content with dynamically optimized pricing, compelling offers and product recommendations on an individual consumer basis.

Enhancing Retailer Supply Chains Using Cortana

Another set of fundamental issues for retailers is to ensure their understanding of inventory demand patterns, supply networks, and customer service requirements. Any glitch or interruption in supply chain activities can mean lost sales and customer dissatisfaction. Therefore, it’s critical to ensure consistent supply, services, and quality across all channel platforms to maintain narrow margins without compromising the customer experience.

To address these issues, organizations need a robust and reliable forecasting solution. Cortana’s Intelligence Suite services such as Microsoft R and Azure Machine Learning can help create advanced analytics to generate store, sales channel and product level forecasts. Time series models and regression models can be developed and trained to use sales data to generate demand forecasts, enabling managers and purchasing agents to ensure the right products are in the right location at the right time.

External economic information, such as real disposable personal income, can also be used within the models to reveal economic trends that affect customer behavior, providing additional capabilities to position products for the proper stores and locations.

Microsoft’s Cortana Intelligence Gallery provides a repository where developers and data scientist can share their analytics solutions. This gallery provides many examples of solutions already developed to address many of the needs and issues discussed above.

In addition, pre-configured solutions, reference architectures, design patterns, tutorials and customer Azure Machine Learning modules are available. This provides a retail organization with the ability to get started quickly and continue to evolve and optimize their analytics solutions. As an example, developers can start integrating Cortana’s Cognitive Services Recommendation APIs with only a few lines of code.

As stated above, the Cortana Intelligence is a Microsoft Azure cloud-based computing platform. Centric Consulting has recently earned silver status for the Microsoft Cloud Platform Competency. The Cloud Platform Competency showcases our ability to support customers’ growing demand for infrastructure and software as a service (SaaS) solutions built on Microsoft Azure. Centric has also received silver status for Data and Analytics and Application Development Microsoft Partner Competencies.

With more than 15 years of experience delivering advanced solutions using Microsoft technologies, we can help retail organizations build analytics solutions that augment user experience, customize responses and drive intelligent actions built on a fast, flexible, scalable and secure Microsoft Azure platform.

In the next installment of the series, our team will highlight the role that Cortana is playing in financial services.

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About the Author

Darren is a Senior Data Architect. He has over 30 years of experience implementing data warehousing, Business Intelligence and systems integration solutions for large and small enterprises. He also has extensive leadership experience managing software development teams as well as data center operations.