man and woman working in the office. collaborative teamwork.

Sponsored by Microsoft

By Rieva Lesonsky

The world of retail is undergoing a massive transformation as the growth of online and mobile shopping creates an omnichannel retail environment. Customers now shop at home, on the move and in your store, moving seamlessly between the digital and physical world. Whether your customers want to shop online, in-store or some combination of the two, your retail business must accommodate them in order to succeed.

Is this challenging environment, fostering collaboration has become essential to survival for any retail business. Here are three ways you should be collaborating and tools that can help you do it.

1. Collaborate with your team. Whether you have multiple brick-and-mortar stores, or one physical store and a separate e-commerce team, sharing information among your employees is critical to meeting customer needs. Start by choosing a cloud-based solution that makes it simple to share data in real time and offers the built-in security that a retail business needs. Look for a pay-as-you-go solution that keeps costs low, but can quickly scale up as you add employees or locations.

With the cloud, there’s no more hassle with paper schedules, sales reports or records. Distribute operating manuals, sales reports and more securely to staff at different locations or across different departments. You can also share marketing materials and branded displays, which maintains brand consistency across multiple stores, online, and offline.

2. Collaborate with your customers. Now more than ever, retail customers are in control. They know what products are available and aren’t shy about demanding what they want. To make sure your store or ecommerce site is stocked with the products they crave, communicate with your customers every way you can—online, on social media and in person. Use loyalty programs and website analytics to capture data about what customers buy, which promotions they respond to and the ways they like to shop—online, offline or both.

The more your customers tell you about what they want, the more responsive your retail business can be. Once you’ve gathered all that data, put it to use. Employ customer relationship management (CRM) tools to reach out to customers with personalized communications, offers and promotions.

3. Collaborate with your suppliers. Effectively managing the supply chain is one of the biggest challenges a small retailer faces. How can you keep up with customer demands that change on a dime, maintain sufficient inventory and still stay within your budget? Collaboration, that’s how. Use business analytics tools to slice and dice your business data, then create visualizations and share them with suppliers. When all the information you need is in one easy-to-use dashboard, making informed decisions is simple. Work with your suppliers to fine-tune inventory shipments and promotional plans.

Whoever you collaborate with, keep it simple.

Running a retail business is challenging enough — you and your employees don’t need to learn an entire new system, too. Simplify collaboration using tools such as Microsoft Office 365, built on the familiar Windows apps your team already knows and loves. Skype for Business makes it easy to check in with multiple stores or conference with a supplier. And Office 365 works with Apple and Android mobile devices, so collaborating with your employees, suppliers and partners is a snap no matter what platform they use.

For retailers, collaboration can make all the difference in your success — both now and in the years to come. As we head into the highly competitive holiday shopping season, make collaboration tools your secret weapon.