What is unified commerce?
It began as an approach to sales and marketing that married experiences from brick-and-mortar to mobile-browsing and everything in between — affectionately known as “omnichannel.” It was supposed to provide customers a fully integrated shopping experience, but omnichannel has quickly evolved. That's because it doesn't describe what retailers are really trying to do. For example, omnichannel does not consider back-office processes, which are usually managed on multiple different platforms with different tools.
To optimize impact, retailers should rely on a single version of the truth when it comes to their customers, what’s in their supply chain and what happens once their customers receive their products. Since customers expect to shop whenever, wherever and however they want, meeting the customer experience gaps in omnichannel delivery requires retailers to adopt a unified system. Unified commerce takes a retailer’s business beyond omnichannel, putting the customer experience first, breaking down the walls between internal channel silos and leveraging a single commerce platform across all channels.
Unified commerce is a customer experience-led approach that brings together the transactional functionality of a retail platform with the customer data insights, replacing disconnected IT systems and combining critical business information into one platform including customer data, merchandising, order management, eCommerce, order fulfillment, inventory management, CRM, point of sale and more. By integrating everything onto this single platform, retailers can consolidate internal channels that are currently operating in their own silos, leading to more efficient business operations, performance and happier customers. Today, over 86 percent of all software spending in retail is now focused on the concept of unified commerce.
Unified commerce trends and drivers
What are the key trends that are driving the need for unified commerce?
- Personalization/customer engagement: As lines between online and in-store blur, shoppers expect their shopping to be personalized and easy. They can find and compare competing retailers in seconds, make purchases with the click of a button and broadcast their satisfaction (or unhappiness). Studies show that more than half of all customers will pay more for a brand that provides a personalized experience. As a retailer, you should aim to deliver services tailored to the customers’ needs. Be able to give recommendations and support. This means friendly, knowledgeable associates who can help each customer.
- Unique in-store experiences: As customer expectations change, retailers must create a reason for customers to come into their stores, like consumer engagement spaces (CES) and display only retail environments (DOREs). That experience is an opportunity to differentiate you from competitors.
- Exceptional online experience: Online customers expect the same immediate gratification as brick-and-mortar shopping. Supporting buy online/pickup in-store (BOPIS) allows for the immediate gratification and also sets up the potential for more sales with a halo effect. Halo effects are when customers made the original purchase online but end up spending more once they're in store for the pickup.
The benefits of unified commerce
Checkout isn’t just about the sale: it’s an opportunity to connect. Find a way to transform checkout from a long tedious process into a positive experience that gives customers a reason to return. For example, consider a unified commerce platform that will consolidate customer data across channels to a single view that sales associates can access at the point of sale, so they'll know the customers’ preferences and desires and can provide relevant, one-on-one service at checkout.
So now that you’ve defined your experiences across digital and physical channels, what are the benefits of unified commerce?
A seamless customer experience
Customers aren’t interested in the logistics of the business. They want what they want when they want it, whether they get it online or in your stores. For example, a customer may want to:
- Buy an out-of-stock item and have it delivered to their home.
- Return a product to store they purchased online.
- Check the availability of an item at a specific store.
- Buy online and pick up in a store.
Smart, data-driven decisions
By running all parts of the business — distribution centers, eCommerce sites, back office and physical stores — on a single platform, everyone can work with the same data. It is easier to track key performance indicators (KPIs), analyze the effectiveness and make decisions based on actual data. With a clear and unified view, retailers can identify new revenue streams and potential growth opportunities and improve customer satisfaction.
All the systems need to work without a hitch. When retailers use different software to manage sales, inventory, purchase orders, etc., integration becomes a problem. Having accurate inventory counts across all channels gives you the ability to have a higher sell-through and fulfill orders in a smarter more optimized way. Every time the systems need upgrading, integration begins again. Quite often this is lengthy and costly. But once a unified system is in place, integrating updates and maintaining systems takes a lot less time and money. Additionally, only one vendor is needed to manage the whole process.
Unified commerce provides a fantastic way to streamline global growth and serve your customers better. So how do you accomplish this?
Consider running an audit of your business's existing platforms and processes to identify the number of systems that are currently outdated or siloed. To accelerate your approach, consider choosing the right partner to provide expert strategy and guidance. With the right foundation, achieving your business goals can be surprisingly simple.