CSA Exclusive: Amazon Web Services leverages heritage for retail innovation

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CSA Exclusive: Amazon Web Services leverages heritage for retail innovation

By Dan Berthiaume - 09/20/2019
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is on a mission to move retailers, even Amazon, to the cloud.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Phil Thompson, worldwide tech leader, and Tom Litchford, head, worldwide business development, retail, AWS, about the unique role their unit plays as the cloud services technology provider for Amazon. AWS provides cloud infrastructure and technologies to thousands of retailers worldwide, including Nike, J. Crew, Zola, and of course, Amazon.

“Retail heritage is our differentiator,” explained Litchford. “We want to move on-premises technology to the cloud.”

At Amazon, AWS has been responsible for developing leading-edge, cloud-based technology such as the computer vision and Amazon Kinesis video streaming solutions used in Amazon Go cashierless stores, as well as the Amazon Forecast demand forecasting and Amazon Rekognition video recognition systems.

“We developed the algorithms for the computer vision technology used in Amazon Go over six years,” said Litchford. According to Litchford, AWS bases its technology approach on three pillars – obtaining a complete view of the retail business with data, getting data out of silos, and transforming customer engagement.

“We want to make ‘Big Data’ into reality from the hype,” said Litchford. “We want to provide a single version of truth by building retail data lakes. We want to enable retailers to provide better customer experience and build brand equity.”

Part of AWS’ mission is also to reinvent legacy systems by “lifting and shifting” legacy on-premises systems to the cloud.

“By breaking monolithic enterprise systems into serverless microsystems, we can use technology like voice, Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) to reinvent the store and drive better customer experience,” said Litchford.

Thompson then discussed how AWS has supported a department store retailer client in migrating to the cloud for a superior omnichannel customer experience.

“They had a monolithic e-commerce system,” said Thompson. “They ripped out their recommendation engine and rewrote it to be channel-agnostic. Some customers are online and some are in-store. A retailer’s strategy must be channel- agnostic and consistent, no matter who the customer is or what channel they are using.”

According to Thompson, one of the first things many retailers who work with AWS want to accomplish is replacing the built-in recommendation engine from their enterprise e-commerce platform.

“They want an engine that can tell you a customer who saw this liked that, or a customer who liked this liked that, rather than have recommendations be specific to e-commerce,” said Thompson. “It’s the same customer online or in the store face-to-face. By feeding real-time, channel-agnostic information to the salesperson, retailers can make the store experience worthwhile.”

AWS can also help retailers apply leading-edge technology to handle very specific issues that may have an impact on the store experience.

“A convenience store client uses Amazon Rekognition video recognition software to get an automatic alert if someone is smoking in the forecourt,” said Thompson. “An associate can be notified to tell the person to stop. It’s a health and safety issue.”

And as the holidays approach, Thompson advised that a cloud-based infrastructure is well-suited to scalably and affordably handling peaks in online and in-store traffic and purchase activity.

“Where the cloud can excel is in eliminating the need for on-premises systems that sit idle for most of the year,” he said.