Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer outlined the company’s vision for retail at the National Retail Federation conference here Monday.

There were no surprises in the speech, which outlined four key trends: The importance of the customer, increasing global competition, empowered and knowledgeable employees and integrated enterprises in which information is available anywhere.

“These are the big changes we see happening in the industry, and they will only accelerate,” said Ballmer, pacing the stage and speaking in the booming voice for which he is well known.

He noted that localized search will be important in the coming years, and urged retailers to open up and participate in providing inventory information so consumers can search online and find out which local stores carry the stockkeeping unit they want.

Ballmer alluded to several announcements the company made today. It is working with Teradata to improve interoperability with Microsoft applications so, for example, a merchant can use Excel or SQL server to view information stored in a Teradata warehouse. The functionality will be available later this quarter.

The company also announced updated versions of its two point-of-sale software packages for small and midsize retailers, the $799 Point of Sale 2.0 and Microsoft Dynamics Retail Management System 2.0, which starts at $1,190. In addition, small retailers can buy a complete POS system with Hewlett-Packard hardware and integrated payments from First Data.

Ballmer noted Microsoft has improved security in all its software, and will roll out nine new versions of its software over the next year, starting with the Windows Vista operating system due in two weeks.

The company is working with Best Buy, Circuit City, Ralph Lauren, Charming Shoppes, Lane Bryant and FNAC, among others, to get information to employees they need to help customers make the right purchase decisions and to make information broadly available across the company.

“Technology will help strengthen customer relations, improve enterprise openness and enable real-time business decisions,” Ballmer said. “The fundamental value technology will continue to bring is really quite important.”

This story first appeared in the January 16, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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