This year’s National Retail Federation BIG show was something different—entirely virtual. But it came off quite smoothly, demonstrating how powerful digital transformation can be. It even had some advantages over an in-person event. I was able to see more sessions for one. And without aching feet.

Still, even with the more accessible digital format, not everyone could attend the show or hit every session (and I did miss seeing friends and former colleagues from the industry.) Here are a few of my big highlights including an incredible private preview of Microsoft Cloud for Retail:   

COVID-19 is the new chief innovation officer

2020 was a year where we saw retail change at a pace and a scale that we could never have imagined. A key theme I discussed was the lessons learned from 2020. Some experts say we’ve seen 10 years of digital evolution in the past 10 months. That’s in large because COVID-19 has become our new chief innovation officerWe saw disruptions across supply chains, the advent of remote work at scale, incredible growth in e-commerce penetration, and advances in sustainability. Not to mention a continued explosion of data and shifting customer loyalty. 

During a fireside chat, I spoke with Chris Putur, EVP, Technology & Operations at REI, the outdoor gear retailer. Like others, REI has had to adopt new health protocols; adopt new digital business models such as curbside pickup or virtual outfitting; and found new ways to work from home – going so far as to sell a corporate HQ to reflect the new hybrid work model.  

Microsoft Cloud for Retail Makes it’s debut and more

Forbes’ article on NRF 2021, Exploring 5 Top Retail Trends at NRF, mentions vertical clouds and soon we will have a retail-specific clou. Microsoft Cloud for Retail connects experiences across the end-to-end retail value chain using integrated and intelligent capabilities. It will bring value to the industry by connecting and unlocking the power of Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics, Advertising, and Power Platform to help solve the most urgent challenges retailers are facing. Our ambition is to empower the retail industry to seamlessly connect their customers, their people, and their data. Learn more in my recent blog about our new retail cloud or on

On a similar note, I couldn’t have been more excited by the customer momentum and new product capabilities announcements from our modern workplace and Microsoft Dynamics 365 teams.

The Retail Prophet’s predictions

We hosted an online chat with Doug Stephens, who as the CEO of Retail Prophet advises the leadership of global brands on what’s next for retail. Some of the key points Doug made:

  • We’re seeing the end of the beginning in e-commerce. In Doug’s view, the past year has taken e-commerce to a new level of maturity. He noted that while e-commerce is a $3 trillion retail economy globally, there is another $27 trillion out there for e-commerce to capture.
  • The rise of “apex predators.” Doug says that sectors such as banking, healthcare, and education are vulnerable to disruption and are being increasingly invaded by retail behemoths Amazon and Wal-Mart, creating what he calls “retail apex predators.”
  • Every company is an “experience company.” Every retailer has customers, and every customer has an experience with that retailer. That means putting data science and artificial intelligence in the hands of focused internal teams who can find new ways to connect customers to the retailer to survive in a time of “apex predators.”

To stay current on Microsoft Cloud for Retail news, visit our web site. Stay informed about Microsoft Cloud for Retail to learn how you can connect with your customers, your people, and your data.