Intelligent Systems Changing the Face of Retail
Jan. 14, 2013
Microsoft announces preview availability of Windows 8-based platform for industry devices.

NEW YORK — Jan. 14, 2013 — It can be hard to work in retail these days. With information so readily available, customers can research products at home, check on a store’s reputation, compare prices right in the aisles and ultimately choose to buy wherever they get the best deal. What can retailers do to influence shoppers who may have already made up their minds?

Greg Buzek, founder and president of research firm IHL Group, says as the line between traditional and online shopping blurs, retailers must adapt to serve the increasingly complex needs of today’s tech-savvy consumer. Fortunately, the right blend of technologies can deliver an even deeper level of information and insight to help stores keep up.

“We have never seen a trend as strong as the store adopting mobile devices for their associates,” Buzek says. “It levels the playing field with the consumers and provides the associates with the tools not only to serve the customer better, but also to do so at the right price to win the sale.”

As part of Microsoft’s strategy, the company’s Windows Embedded Group recently announced its plans to roll out Windows 8-based platforms and technologies that enable industry devices such as digital signage, point-of-service (POS) terminals and kiosks to participate in intelligent systems — moving these devices beyond standalone entities to help retailers strengthen customer experiences and drive operational intelligence.

This week at the National Retail Federation (NRF) Annual Convention & EXPO in New York, the next steps in that road map are taking shape, with the availability of a new release preview for Windows Embedded 8 Industry. (The release preview can be downloaded here.) General availability for the new product is expected in mid-2013.

The next generation of Windows Embedded POSReady, Windows Embedded 8 Industry represents an ideal solution for industry devices that utilize powerful line-of-business applications. The new name reflects an expanded focus on supporting not just POS scenarios, but also the entire range of devices that power retail organizations — as well as devices in manufacturing, health care and any other industry where the ability to perform a specialized function in a secure and reliable way is paramount.

Windows Embedded General Manager Kevin Dallas says using Windows 8-based devices will allow retailers to implement a consistent, connected architecture from the device layer to back-end software and services, resulting in the kind of intelligent system that is steadily transforming the retail industry today.

“In today’s dynamic and multichannel environment, retailers are finding the need for a whole new level of integration to serve customers the way they expect,” Dallas says. “By connecting common devices, enterprise applications and cloud services into an organizationwide intelligent system, retailers can more accurately forecast sales, develop dynamic pricing models, better understand their customers, and realize new value from new streams of information.”

Many stores are reaping the benefits today. In the U.K., for example, the Co-operative Group has created a system that monitors transactions across thousands of stores, with information that can be dialed down to buying patterns for individual customers. Other companies employing an approach that uses Microsoft software include Royal Caribbean International, Carl’s Jr. and Major League Baseball’s oldest franchise, the Cincinnati Reds.

The Co-operative Group, a popular U.K. retailer, has implemented an intelligent system that can help spot trends across thousands of stores nationwide or offer you a coupon based on what's in your shopping cart.

With so many companies already finding success, the opportunity for intelligent systems is huge. In retail, IHL Group’s initial estimates for 2012 indicate that POS shipments were up 5.3 percent over 2011, which saw a 12.3 percent increase from the year before; Microsoft currently powers 88 percent of all POS devices.

Using Microsoft technologies such as Microsoft SQL Server 2012 and Windows Azure, retailers such as the Co-operative Group can process and analyze large amounts of data quickly, making the entire organization much more agile — but it’s readily apparent at NRF this week that the ability of those specialized industry devices to connect and generate new types of data is what’s really changing the face of retail IT.

“Retailers today really can’t afford not to invest in a modern point-of-service platform that goes beyond just the POS terminal,” Dallas says. “An effective platform should include enhanced ease of use through touch-optimized devices and real-time incorporation across all devices and systems in the stores, warehouses and delivery channels. By extending Windows 8 to a new class of devices, Microsoft is delivering the future of retail today.”

Several other manufacturers are on hand at NRF this week to demonstrate new retail devices being built on preview versions of Windows Embedded 8, and anticipation for the product is high. Conference attendees will have a chance to experience firsthand how these new technologies can assist retailers in creating more effective and relevant shopping experiences.

To complement Windows Embedded 8 Industry, Microsoft is also announcing a platform based on Windows Phone 8 called Windows Embedded 8 Handheld and working with leading manufacturers Motorola Solutions, Intermec, Honeywell, Ingenico and Bluebird to bring new devices designed for industry to market.

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