Canadian retail in the age of AI revolution

Canada has been a unique beacon of AI and digital technology development for some time now, with a slew of research centers from coast to coast and a history of innovations that transform the way we interact with the world online – Blackberries not being long forgotten, of course. 

As more of the world develops advanced consumer economies, while also furnishing greater investments in all forms of AI, self-service digital technology and automation, Canada continues to lead the way in adopting new consumer practices. Expectations for a great experience have never been higher.  

Ninenty percent (yes, almost all) Canadian consumers prefer personalized experiences and 80% find these more likely to lead to a purchase. While personalization long ago became the norm, a full 33 percent of consumers actively abandon brands that lack the personalization they expect today. 

On this personalization battlefield, retailers and brands can be challenged to keep up. We have stepped beyond the simple days of straightforward categories and segments to an age where consumers want to feel like individuals whenever they are looking to buy. In times like these, it is essential that retailers consider their entire method of marketing, selling, fulfilling and maintaining a high functioning organization if they want to measure up. 


Personalization starts with the Fulfillment Chain 

Ultimately, one of the expectations that most consumers expect – whether shopping online, in-store, or in-between – is speed of availability and delivery. 

Modern trends pop up, move, and fade out faster than ever. We have come off COVID-induced supply chain disruptions where consumers learned to hold off because of a multitude of factors: high prices, limited choices, stock disruptions, delays in delivery and difficulty servicing their existing major purchases like appliances, electronics and other home goods. 

The full thrush of our COVID rebound, along with more than a million new consumers joining our economy each year, now means that retailers must have agile, responsive supply chains that anticipate changes in demand and are able to maintain fully stocked shelves and warehouses, without burdensome carrying costs or overstock. 

While Generative AI has emerged as a transformative technology in many fields, Microsoft has rushed headlong to make the necessary investments in making enterprise AI a practical reality. Copilot for Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management helps operations leaders act based on insights and data aggregation capabilities that have until now been impossible.  

Whether its new orders, modifications or product disruptions, these new AI capabilities permit retail leaders to avoid nasty surprises before they happen, while ultimately clearing the way to best serve consumers as demands change.  

Feature video: New Microsoft Copilot capabilities in Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management ( 


Brands and Retailers Must Have Internal Visibility and Insight 

While avoiding disruptions and unexpected changes is critical to maintaining the growth and profitability of established retailers, setting a vision for the future is critical to achieving organizational goals without losing speed. 

In this context, it can simply become difficult to keep up with consumers. Social media now governs much of what we buy, with 47% of consumers using it to access exclusive deals and promotions, 39% using to to discover new products, and between 30 and 36% responding to it on the basis of visual inspiration, targeted ads and recommendations from family and friends 

This hyper-connected consumer doesn’t just get served overnight. Retailers need to be able to anticipate these challenges through a connected supply chain that not only manages operational challenges, but allows for comprehensive demand planning that takes all factors into considerations and provides clarity to the vision that retail leaders set out. 

That’s where solutions like Microsoft’s new demand planning functions for Dynamics 365 enable more accurate inventory management, higher customer satisfaction, improved collaboration and resource allocation and better strategic planning, not just through the benefit of machine learning-based AI that understands your business at its core and provides key insights and metrics, but yes, with additional Copilot capabilities that make it easy to evaluate the quality of your data, remove outliers and prioritize your key markets to maximize business performance. 


Consumers Need to be Appealed to, Right Through the Point of Sale 

Most Canadian retailers have made comprehensive efforts to provide omnichannel experiences to their customers. Just as omnichannel becomes the norm, however, so do standards change and expectations continue to increase.  

Consumers today are increasingly seeking out Unified Commerce experiences that not only reach them across all channels, but bridge the divide between online shopping experiences, third-party marketplaces and more traditional points of sale. 

Fifty-four percent of consumers say that they are looking to buy products online and pick them up in store. Conversely, 53% indicate that they are liable to evaluate products in-store but then buy them online. More than half additionally want to know what’s in stock at local stores when they shop online, while many also seek out in-store returns of online purchases and nearly 60% say BOPIS-like experiences are important to them. 

Ultimately, aligning both the online and in-store experience you offer is critical to meeting consumer expectations and making the sale. In the Dynamics space, Microsoft is now enabling retailers to create more personalized experiences across connected and in-store applications with the Azure cloud, in addition to offering greater insight on the performance of store associates and even create Copilot-based applications that enable store associates to provide better guidance and insight to shoppers as they “walk the aisles”. Modelling consumer data and further driving offers down to the individual consumer are also among the critical new capabilities available for retailers today. 


How Retailers Can Know What to do Next 

Integrating new technology can be challenging without a holistic approach. The experience you provide your consumers can often be the decisive factor in their willingness to return. Thinkmax has worked hand-in-glove with Microsoft to evaluate trends and see what’s next in offering personalized experiences, and through the power of AI, you have the ability to anticipate your consumer needs like never before – without struggling frantically to keep up. 

For a more in-depth discussion, we’ll be offering a presentation with Microsoft: “AI Retail Revolution: Unveiling Microsoft's Game-Changing Innovations” during a lunch-and-learn session at RCC STORE, taking place at the Toronto Congress Centre, May 28th and 29th, 2024. In this session, you won’t simply see the full power of the applications discussed in this article, but also some new capabilities which may just transform how you think about your approach to your consumers.   


If you’d like a more personalized discussion about the AI Roadmap that Microsoft and Thinkmax have carved out for Canadian Retail, Book a meeting with us at RCC STORE, May 28-29 at the Toronto Congress Centre. Not to be missed!