Microsoft urges Dynamics RMS partners to embrace AX-based Retail Realm Essentials for next generation of SMB retail management

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Valerie Miller reporting in on some new messaging from Microsoft for their Retail Realm Essentials product offering.

For veterans of Dynamics RMS, Microsoft’s retail roadmap is a hot topic at this year’s Retail Realm 2015 technology conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas. The conference drew about 250 attendees and almost 30 exhibitors, an increase from last year.

In the keynote at this week’s event, Microsoft Dynamics representatives painted a picture of retail’s omni-channel evolution and ways in which SMB retailers – and Microsoft partners – could best respond.

“The shopping journey is changing. There is a secular trend toward researching and shopping online,” said Ashvin Mathew, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics Retail and commerce retail.

Online shopping and customer mobility are the retail tidal waves of today’s consumer economy. Holiday sales for this past shopping season saw a 4.5 percent increase in in-store sales, but a jump of 13.9 percent in online sales and a 50 percent gain in mobile sales.

Mathew touted the benefits of Retail Realm Essentials (also referred to as “Retail Essentials” for short at the event), the Microsoft heir apparent to RMS for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Retail Essentials was first announced years ago as “NextGen RMS” he reminded the crowd.

Retail Essentials is based on Dynamics AX, the enterprise-scale ERP solution, but it is designed for SMBs. “The only difference between Retail Essentials and AX is switching on a key,” Matthew said.

The Microsoft Dynamics general manager also tried to reassure partners and vendors that Microsoft had not abandoned RMS, nor had the company abandoned the retail SMB market.

“Four years ago, in Atlanta, there was skepticism if we could deliver by 2014,” Mathew said. “We now have Retail Realm Essentials, which was launched in November and released in March.”

Mathew added that RMS will continue to be available to existing customers for several more years.

“Microsoft Dynamics will allow RMS licensing for new customers through July 2016. Existing customers can receive support and additional licenses through 2021.”

Keynote session attendees at times burst into spontaneous applause, like when Microsoft speakers mentioned making the Retail Essentials more of a “one click” product. The reaction was a sharp contrast to Retail Realm conferences of past years, where attendee-partners sometimes loudly chided Microsoft presenters for the company’s then-perceived lack of progress in developing a replacement for the aging Dynamics RMS.

Mathew said Microsoft Dynamics is “working with Retail Realm … to put the product on the market.”

Users of Retail Essentials can also expect more eCommerce and mobility features to be turned on, he added. But training is needed for partners who will be selling Retail Essentials to the end users.

“We are looking at training more people on Retail Realm Essentails,” Mathew said. “Get trained on [it].”

During the question-and-answer session that followed the keynote, a few audience members voiced concern over whether some functions of the Retail Essentials solution might perform too slowly.

“If something doesn’t click on fast enough, I get yelled at,” said Ron Rahhal, who owns a Chicago-based consulting company.

Some partners and audience members voiced concern over the cost of training, the time it took to travel out-of-town to be trained, and the ultimate cost to the end user.

Jeff Hobbs, the owner of North Las Vegas-based Checkpoint Software, said the cost of the software, hardware and other essentials, could easily run into the $8,000-plus range. In comparison, he said RMS is around $1,200, not including installation costs.

But Afshin Alikhani, chairman of Retail Realm, clarified that Retail Realm Essentials is designed for companies with five stores and above. For that level, its price level is on par with Dynamics RMS. For smaller retailers with one or two stores, a new solution was introduced at the event (more on that in an upcoming article) that will keep smaller stores at the same $1200 price point.

Jim Sperry, alliance manager for Mercury, an exhibitor and sponsor, was pleased with the keynote.

“I appreciate the direction Microsoft is going with its overall suite of products,” he said. “Retail Essentials is geared up to leap into the marketplace.”