6 Ways Cloud Technology Can Enhance Your Retail Business

on January 9, 2017

Today’s retail customers have high expectations. They want to browse and buy seamlessly, whether they’re at your store or visiting your website on a desktop computer or smartphone. They expect personalized offers and interactions; quick, secure transactions; convenient return policies and products in-stock. (After all, if you don’t have what they’re looking for, they can instantly find it elsewhere with a quick smartphone search.)

How can a retailer hope to compete? Fear not: Cloud technology can help. Here are 6 ways cloud solutions can boost your retail business.

1. Make your employees more productive. Thanks to cloud-based solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics 365, your sales associates no longer have to run to the checkout counter to make the sale or look up product information for customers. Armed with Windows tablets, they can serve customers faster, show customers various product options without running back and forth to the stockroom, and look up product information anywhere in the store. In fact, sales managers using Windows tablets save an average of five hours per month, a study by Forrester Research reports.

2. Improve customer service. Customer service is a crucial differentiator for small retailers—especially when customers can easily find the same products online. By using Windows tablets to access information about customer preferences, stock availability, online reviews and store offers from the cloud, sales associates gain that critical edge over the competition. (Bonus: When customers get help quickly, they spend more money in your store. Stores using cloud-based retail technology and Windows tablets saw sales increase by an average of 50 percent, Forrester says.)

3. Boost customer loyalty. If you know what your customers have purchased in the past, what they’ve browsed on your website, what they’ve “liked” on social media, and what promotional offers they’ve responded to, you’ll be better able to tailor offers to their interests. Gathering and analyzing all this data is simple when you use a cloud-based tool like Microsoft Dynamics 365. It automates customer loyalty programs and uses social insights to make your marketing campaigns more effective.

4. Get control of your supply chain. Cloud-based solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 allow you to simplify and streamline the purchasing process, operate lean while still having adequate inventory, and know exactly what’s going on with your supply chain in real time at any given moment. Armed with this information, you can provide what your customers want when they want it.

5. Improve point-of-sale (POS) functionality. POS systems that can consolidate customers’ purchase data, including previous purchases, wish lists and details of transactions, help your salespeople make recommendations and boost sales. With insights into what customers buy, you can manage your inventory more effectively and efficiently.

6. Centrally manage the omnichannel shopping experience. When the same customers are shopping not only in-store, but also online on multiple devices, how can a retailer get a grip on payments, shipping and inventory? It’s easy with Microsoft Dynamics 365, which lets you run all customer interactions, no matter where they take place, from one central system. No more “silos” between your e-commerce and brick-and-mortar operations. No more confusion when a customer buys something online and rushes to your store to pick it up…only to find it’s not there. You’ll always have a real-time overview of inventory levels, sales, customer interactions and supply channels throughout your entire operation.

Given all the benefits the cloud can bring to your retail operation, what should you look for when choosing a cloud-based retail solution? Focus on these three factors:

1. Simplicity. Adding multiple third-party solutions onto your existing operations piecemeal means greater complexity—the last thing a busy retailer needs. Instead, choose a cloud-based solution that integrates seamlessly with the tools you already rely on.

2. Ease of use. Your sales associates should be busy helping customers, so minimize their time away from the floor. Look for a solution that offers a familiar interface and works with your existing Office software to lessen the learning curve.

3. Security. Whether customers are sharing information with you online or in-store, they need to feel sure their financial and personal data is secure. Microsoft’s cloud-based retail solutions provide enterprise-level security to keep customers’ data safe at every interaction point.

This article originally appeared on AllBusiness.