As the UAE hurtles towards World Expo 2020, many of the nation’s industries are preparing to reap the rewards represented by the event’s projected 17.5 million foreign visitors. Two sectors stand out as obvious beneficiaries of this tumultuous human influx – retail and hospitality, both of which have the potential to drive a prolonged period of digital transformation, as stores and hotels strive for differentiation.
The Expo is likely to drive a surge in consumption from both the private and public sector and a report from PR Newswire predicts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the UAE retail sector of greater than 7% up to 2020. And although Euromonitor estimates the UAE’s online retail sector to constitute a lesser share of the whole market than the global average, in terms of value sales, this share is expected to double by 2020.
Getting ready to deal with volume business requires a technology strategy that embraces the new. Cloud platforms can imbue all sizes and shapes of business with a flexibility and agility that seemed impossible a few years ago; and customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI) systems present a means of personalising and simplifying in-store and online experiences for customers, through deep-dive analytics.
Cloud services, such as those offered on Microsoft Azure, make innovation cheaper by not only lowering the total cost of ownership of IT infrastructure, but by delivering a rich-featured platform that is a true partner in a business’ growth cycle. Cloud deployments can shrink and grow at the push of a button, allowing retailers to give their customers memorable experiences that keep them coming back.
Shop smart, stock mart
CRM and BI enables retailers to share data across channels to ensure a connected customer experience, in-store and online. By migrating to customer-centricity, retailers can take the shopper from unknown, to known, to a technology driven personalized customer journey, resulting in increased customer satisfaction, quantifiable increases in traffic, conversion, basket size, promotional effectiveness and profitability.
Powerful tools such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Power BI drive the connected customer experience, and provide valuable insights into the deepest and least-visible nooks of a retailer’s operation. These tools can lead decision-makers to often non-intuitive conclusions and drive actionable insights that add real value to a business and their customers, by analysing points of sale, in-store interactions, customers’ social media comments and more.
The Universal Windows App Platform, delivered through Windows 10, has allowed retailers around the world to deploy in-store cross-device experiences that help customers to familiarise themselves with products and services by browsing, testing and comparing. In one such solution, a retailer developed “tap and take” cards that used near field communications (NFC) technology to build personalised digital brochures for customers through a simple tap of the card on products or services in digital kiosks. Meanwhile, Power BI helped the business to improve its product mix. This solution led to an impressive 40% of customers continuing their instore experience online.
The total number of visitors expected at Dubai’s Expo 2020 is 25 million, of whom 70 per cent will be visitors from abroad. This spells delight for the nation’s already-robust hospitality sector. Occupancy rates, average room rates and average room revenues are all set to rise in 2016 for Abu Dhabi and Dubai hotels, according to a PwC report. This positive trend is expected to continue through to 2020.
The region has borne witness to a significant number of digital transformations in hotels, particularly among the 5-star chains. However, the cloud is a friend to businesses of all scales, which means that mid- and low-range hoteliers in the UAE, who are already also set to benefit from the 2020 deluge, can take advantage of technology, to innovate alongside the deluxe brands.
Cloud, CRM and BI can deliver a range of extras to guests. This begins with personalised experiences – systems that predict, with the forethought of a valet, what customers will want and when they are likely to want it. At the heart of these experiences lies the connected room, where Internet of Things (IoT) devices use the cloud to generate rich data sets that hotels can use to enhance their service levels. All of this can serve as a boon to inventories and the supply chain, as well as being key drivers for customer satisfaction and retention.
Microsoft’s Connected Room solution, for example, is built around the individual needs of guests, from entertainment to environmental preferences, and allows hotels to cater to those needs automatically. This extends to proactive maintenance, through active monitoring, which increases revenue per room and helps to deliver brand loyalty.
Solutions like this are already deployed in thousands of hotels globally, including across the Gulf and wider Middle East. Hospitality brands are beginning to understand that differentiation means offering experiences that customers have not had anywhere else.
The cloud, CRM and BI are designed for this purpose, allowing systems that let guests control every aspect of their room without assistance from staff, but also allow them to book meals and spa treatments, order room service and much more, through simple screen interactions.
Design of the times
The cloud, CRM and BI work together to make businesses more competitive. The cloud adds flexibility while reducing cost and complexity, freeing up enterprises of all stripes to be smarter without having to consider the logistics of infrastructure expansion.
CRM and BI allow those same businesses to discover non-intuitive information about their customers, feeding increasingly innovative, and value-adding, adjustments to their product or service mixes.
The UAE private sector is uniquely placed to harness the power of these technologies, to 2020 and beyond. While Azure provides cost benefit, agility and innovation with its open, flexible and enterprise platform, CRM Online creates 360 customer engagement and Power BI brings insight from any data to advance businesses. Adding Azure Advanced services such as Machine Learning even may provide analytics to predict future and automate responses.
The writer is Cloud and Enterprise Business Solutions Lead at Microsoft Gulf. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.