Albertsons Leverages Microsoft Azure, 365 To Enhance Customer Experience

An Example Of Digital Transformation In Retail

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Steven Lerner

Mobile technology and cloud computing has raised the expectations for both retail customers and store associates. Recognizing the need to adapt, Albertsons recently announced a three-year partnership with Microsoft to make Azure its preferred cloud platform and to expand Microsoft 365 to all store employees, with the goal of making the shopping experience frictionless.

The Urgency To Adapt

As the second largest grocer in the United States, Albertsons has a variety of customers, including many who don’t have the time shop, and are looking for convenience. In order to provide that to the customers, Albertsons realized that technology would be the key.

“Our customer has changed significantly in the last two years, and we wanted to make sure that we are not lagging behind from the experience that we want to provide to them,” said Ramiya Iyer, Albertsons’ GVP of digital stores and pharmacy. “It's all about making it easy and convenient for the customer. You’re excited about shopping for the food, but once you wait in line, that’s the boring part. You want to be in and out, because that's a waste of time from a customer standpoint.”

Although the initial need to leverage the technology was motivated to make the shopping experience better for customers, Albertsons is also aiming to optimize operations for its workforce. About 280,000 employees work for Albertsons, including seasonal employees, and many of them own mobile devices.

“Like any other enterprise, we do not have a shortage of data,” said Iyer. “We have plenty of data, but we don't make it easily available for our employees by converting that core data into information that they can use on the go. What we want to do is make it convenient for employees in the store doing their jobs so that they don’t have to go to the backroom to read reports, or they don't have to sit in front of a computer to get this information. We want to make it more accessible and readily available for them.”

The Decision To Utilize Microsoft

Microsoft was an obvious choice for Albertsons’ plan to improve the retail experience with cloud computing and mobile devices. The grocer starting using Azure almost three years ago with Microsoft’s business analytics tool, Power BI. The combination provides powerful capabilities to offer reports that are accessible from the cloud.

To give all store employees access to these reports and data, Albertsons expanded its use of Microsoft 365, which was previously available for its corporate workers.

“[Microsoft] has been a great partner with us,” said Iyer. “We see the great value as a product offering. As we look at our hybrid cloud strategy, we have our own internal cloud and we want to use the public cloud. The features that they have are meeting our requirements. Also, it's the commitment to customer success that we really like.”

Albertsons has future plans to build a data science and analytics platform on Azure that will provide store employees with insights and help anticipate new opportunities. Meanwhile, all of Albertsons’ digital workloads, such as its websites and applications, have been moved to Azure.

How Albertsons Is Using The Technology

From a cloud infrastructure perspective, the combination of Azure and 365 allows Albertsons to transform the customer journey, conduct marketing campaigns, and enable employees to collaborate across the enterprise with their own personal mobile devices.

“To a large extent, we can very quickly increase our capacity without going through the traditional process of securing new hardware,” said Iyer.

The mobile customer-facing technology will help shoppers locate products quicker, avoid longer-than-usual lines at the deli or checkout, and find deals on products. The future use of predictive analytics helps Albertsons forecast revenue opportunities and influence consumer behavior.

“You want to get into forecasting to basically influence the behavior,” said Iyer. “Most of the time in the past, we have used data for analyzing what has already happened. Now we can predict or influence that before it happens.”

Store associates will be able to use 365 to access critical enterprise data on their mobile devices, such as real-time information about specials or product recalls. The mobile technology will also help associates anticipate items that need to be restocked.

Initial Results

Although the rollout of the technology is still in its initial phases, Albertsons is already experiencing tremendous results. Its new One Touch Fuel app, which uses Azure and geo-fencing to enable customers to pay for fuel from their mobile device, recently exceeded expectations during a pilot program across 25 stores by saving users an average of 90 seconds at the pump.

The real benefit from all of the technology will likely come from increased productivity. The mobile technology makes it possible for employees to receive important messages on their mobile devices while they are on the floor doing their jobs, instead of having to be in the backroom staring at computers. Thanks to its partnership with Microsoft, Albertsons’s associates will save time on redundant tasks, and focus more on improving the customer experience.

“A business needs its employees to be productive,” said Iyer. “They need to have goals and have information accessible. The more information you give to the employees, they are more empowered and the business can run more effectively.”

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