Earlier this year at NRF, we laid out our vision for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Connected Store and had an opportunity to learn a lot from our customer discussions. Today, we are taking the next step in that journey and are excited to expand our Dynamics 365 Connected Store preview experience. Dynamics 365 Connected Store uses computer vision with existing or new cameras to gather and analyze observational data to provide actionable insights. These insights help retailers enhance their customers’ experiences and improve retail operations, all backed by a data-driven approach.
Today, online retailers gather and analyze a lot of behavioral data from users browsing their online properties (what product pages did customers visit, how much time did they spend on a product page, etc.). This data is then used to source the right products and improve customer experiences, resulting in higher sales. However, physical stores miss out on the opportunity to leverage observational data to do the same. This leads to missed opportunities to improve shopper experiences, make processes more efficient, and increase sales. Beyond the missed opportunity, as the pandemic has shown us, understanding what is happening in stores is also paramount to keep employees and customers safe.
To achieve the outcomes identified above, we are introducing Dynamics 365 Connected Store with the following updates and capabilities:
- People tracking skills for shopper analytics, display effectiveness, and queue management
- Intelligent edge for privacy and bandwidth considerations
- Consumer-grade setup and configuration experience that works with existing cameras
- Coming soon: store traffic and curbside queue, two COVID-specific skills to protect employees and customers
- Integration with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Commerce
- Orions Systems acquisition
People tracking skills for shopper analytics, display effectiveness, and queue management
As a part of this announcement, Dynamics 365 Connected Store will support the following skills
- Shopper analytics—using cameras pointed at entry and exit locations, receive counts and trends for footfall in the store, and how they change by the hour and by day. You can also identify the busiest day of the week and use that to plan shifts.
- Display effectiveness—measure the effectiveness of displays (end caps in your store) to get an understanding of how many people walked past the display, and how many have actively engaged with it. Use this data to do A/B testing to determine the best locations to put your promotional content or to simply understand how the display is doing.
- Queue management—measure the customer wait time experienced in queues, use the data to plan to open additional queues, and achieve better understanding of business lost due to queue abandonment.
This is the first set of skills we are shipping in our preview and we will be adding more skills in the future.
Intelligent edge for privacy and bandwidth considerations
Dynamics 365 Connected Store is an intelligent edge and intelligent cloud solution designed with privacy and compliance in mind. Video feeds from the cameras are processed on the edge (inside your store). This facilitates privacy by ensuring that the video content does not leave your premises. It also reduces the bandwidth needs related to sending video traffic to the cloud. To enable this, when you sign up for Dynamics 365 Connected Store, you will need to order a physical gateway device which will do the edge processing outlined above. The gateway is plug-n-play so all you need is to connect it to the network and provide power.
Dynamics 365 Connected Store follows Microsoft’s strong privacy practices and AI ethics principles. It does not detect people’s faces or attempt to discover your shoppers’ demographics or identities. Instead, simple people tracking events derived from your video data are sent to the cloud where they are further processed to generate actionable insights. Check out more details regarding data and privacy for Dynamics 365 Connected Store.
Consumer-grade simple setup and configuration experience that works with existing cameras
Dynamics 365 Connected Store brings a simple setup experience through a mobile app. Once you receive the hardware device from Microsoft, you can use the mobile app to configure and get up and running in minutes. This is similar to streamlined consumer experiences for smart hubs, doorbells, and cameras. The setup can make use of existing IP connected cameras, or you can install new cameras if you do not have existing ones.
Coming soon: COVID-specific skills to protect employees and customers
As the world grapples with COVID-19, stores have continued to operate as lifelines, ensuring that the public has uninterrupted access to food products and supplies. Customers, as well as employees and staff, all occupy the retail space as they move within aisles, and through queues—this presents a possible safety risk in a world where measures such as social distancing are crucial to limit exposure and spread of the virus. Dynamics 365 Connected Store has embarked on the development of two new functionalities to address COVID-19, which retailers will soon be able to leverage to facilitate a safer in-store experience:
Store traffic uses footfall data to improve in-store safety by gauging the distance between individuals within your store for social distancing compliance, and by using people-counting to determine when an unsafe occupancy threshold is reached.
To maintain that threshold, the store can initiate “one-in, one-out” notifications, where alerts can be shared as shoppers exit the store, helping staff and management know how many new shoppers can be allowed inside the retail space. This allows staff and management to identify areas that may cause individuals to maintain an unsafe distance from each other, such as tight corners or around popular products, and consider measures such as redirecting foot traffic or rearranging physical displays.
Curbside queue enables a key component of buy online, pickup in store by using computer vision to recognize service-connected vehicles as they approach the store. Once a vehicle is recognized, an alert can be sent to an employee in-store to bring out a cart or order for seamless pickup.
“Contactless pickup” has been of increased importance in today’s retail landscape to limit exposure to others while acquiring goods. It also serves the purpose of lowering the amount of shoppers that physically need to enter the store to shop.
Integration with Dynamics 365 Commerce
Dynamics 365 Connected Store is designed to work better together with other products and services. We are also announcing integration with Dynamics 365 Commerce, which combines Dynamics 365 Connected Store’s in-store observational data with Commerce’s transactional data across physical and digital channels. This will provide businesses with deeper insights to understand their customers better, provide more proactive engagement, and improve overall shopper experience.
In this preview, store employees are empowered to provide this improved engagement through notifications in the Dynamics 365 Commerce Point of Sale (POS) application. Because this is the same application that employees are using day-to-day, there is no need for learning and training on new tools or processes. When there is a long checkout line, store employees are automatically alerted with a task in the POS application to open a new lane to reduce wait times. Our roadmap includes more integrated alerts, actions, insights, and other capabilities to drive better shopper experiences and improve operational efficiencies in the store.
Orions Systems acquisition
Earlier this month, Microsoft also announced the Orions Systems acquisition. The acquisition will bring additional technologies that will allow Dynamics 365 Connected Store to offer retailers a way to build and train their own AI models to customize and optimize how they can learn from their physical space. This extra set of tools will deliver on scenarios beyond what is offered out-of-the-box today and can adapt to the truly unique dimensions and needs of their physical spaces.
Dynamics 365 Connected Store has been committed to using computer vision and IoT to help understand spaces better, and to optimizing business operations and closing the gap between physical and digital retail. Now, by optimizing for customer safety in response to COVID-19, and by creating a simple and secure setup experience spanning the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge, Dynamics 365 Connected Store is meeting new levels of customer expectations.
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