Today’s consumers, more than ever, demand access to the best products, the latest technologies, the coolest brands, and most of all to an amazing shopping experience that is seamless across all sales channels. However, even today, several retailers are sluggish in embracing a unified commerce strategy as a result of which their customers don’t always have access to a desirable, continuous experience while browsing, selecting, shopping, making payments for, and reviewing products of their choice as well as while returning them across retail channels.
Omni-channel Retail Strategy, popularized during recent years was supposed to address this and offer the savvy customers a consistent, superior shopping experience across every website, marketplace mobile app, and in-store sales channel. But while omni-channel made an excellent attempt at integrating a patchwork of disconnected business systems and applications, it hasn’t quite solved the complications that arise out of disconnected systems working in silos, which hinders the ability to deliver a complete, cohesive and curated customer experience.
Unified Commerce Strategy is seen as the next step in modern retail technology as it helps a retail business deliver a reliable, comprehensive experience no matter how or where its customers are shopping from.
The retail industry has witnessed an evolution from separate offline stores and purely online sales through websites to distributed ecosystems comprising of numerous sales channels. In order to be successful, retailers today need to merge all their retail touchpoints, deliver personalization across all sales channels, and provide an omni-channel customer experience. To achieve this, they implement various software solutions such as a Point-of-Sale (POS), a Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Unified inventory management and order fulfilment systems amongst others, coupled with technologies such as e-commerce, data analysis, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine Learning (ML). But getting all these different apps, solutions and systems to interact uninterruptedly with each other is a demanding task.
Unified commerce drives the omni-channel retail experience to the next level by replacing all the disconnected IT systems with a single, centralized platform, which combines the POS, CRM, e-commerce, m-commerce (mobile commerce), order fulfillment, Unified inventory management, and other technologies.
Disconnected systems operate in silos without inherently communicating with each other. As a result, the data collected by them has limited usage and is often redundant. Consequentially, companies tend to make decisions based on incomplete data, which hinders their ability to provide their consumers the desired shopper experience. By integrating everything onto a centralized unified commerce platform, such companies can eliminate this holdup and ensure that the right systems are inter-connected and sharing data for an optimized outcome.
One of the core tenets of an omni-channel retail strategy is that it’s built to deliver an experience that unifies the diverse phygital (digital and physical) commerce into a single, cohesive shopping experience. However, this does not include ensuring that all the other systems such as order management system, order fulfilment, NFC payment devices, etc. are interfacing well with the omni-channel retail solutions and communicating freely with each other. As such, omni-channel strategy often involves complex integrations and manual processes that can create data silos, thwart efficiency, and eventually increase costs.
Unified Commerce strategy mandates that both the data and the different constituent systems are unified so that there is only one version of the truth (data) and the exact same experience across channels (unified systems) that the customers and employees can get. Retail enterprises today should hence envision unified commerce as a primary business strategy as essentially, it is about offering customers a truly consistent experience across all retail channels.
Concentrating on customer-centricity is the mantra (motto) of the modern-day retail world, wherein your customer’s needs and desires are a concern above all others. The magnificence of the unified commerce approach is that it provides the right tools for making your business customer-centric.
A unified commerce platform offers the following 4 benefits by means of which retail customers will get a seamless shopping experience:
Unified commerce is a strategy that centralizes the data you've collected about customers and products on a single platform. These platforms can interconnect systems of e-commerce, mobile commerce, customer relationship management, order management systems, omnichannel order fulfilment, analytics and more to help provide insights into how to improve the customer experience. Bearing in mind that the goal of unified commerce is to promote personalized shopping experiences that meet consumer expectations, it is necessary to align all the sales channels to offer the same information that the customer expects, ensure there is a constant flow of information being shared, and reduce data silos on a given channel. When leveraged in this way, you might see benefits such as:
The key difference between unified commerce solutions and omnichannel retail solutions is that unified commerce unifies, orchestrates, and provides seamless experiences across channels. Whereas, the main goal of omni-channel retail is to give customers an overall experience that gives them an accurate view of all products across all platforms.
Systems that support online shopping and those that aid offline businesses are sometimes meant to work in silos as they are not designed to communicate with the other types of systems. As a result, retailers with omni-channel ambitions are forced to tie together systems that often are not designed for connectivity, which is reflected in poor API connectivity or the use of dated forms of file exchanges. By connecting data across channels in real-time through unified commerce technology, you are giving customers a single fluid experience whether they are purchasing online or offline.
Any retailer who is active online, offline, and on social media can benefit from and create value by simplifying their IT landscape. The organization must have a natural willingness to modify its structure and processes. When you sell through marketplaces, you might want to be able to serve customers coming directly to your stores with a return. By having all the customer data in one place you can start thinking about offering unified commerce services.
Retailers will need to be ready for a unified commerce world. The first step should include a strategy to prepare your retail business for a world where omnichannel, supply chain integration, and customer service optimization are expected. A high-quality shopping experience is no longer enough—consumers want an engaging experience that offers them value, both in terms of pricing as well as functionality. Once they've gotten used to those benefits from other companies, they expect those same things from you.
Chief among the many misconceptions about a successful unified commerce strategy is that more features mean greater success. This isn’t true. What is true is that each feature needs to be part of a cohesive, well-executed plan to drive engagement, conversion, and loyalty across channels. Though they may vary widely in size and complexity, all successful unified commerce strategies share one common set of elements:
To learn more about how you can leverage these ideas into actionable results for your retail business, reach out to us today!
Choosing the right technology partner is a crucial step in launching a new unified commerce solution. Not only will you need to make sure you’re looking at vendors with proven scalability, but also make sure they can accommodate all of your unique needs and demands as well. Don’t forget to include details about how your company works from the top down, including resolving customer service issues. After doing some research into your local market, here are two things you should keep in mind when choosing a partner: integration strategy and functionality capabilities.
First, find out if these providers have experience working with your specific vertical or industry. Do they have examples of companies that look like yours on their client list? Even more important is asking if it’s possible for them to integrate with what you already use. Take a long hard look at what business systems your retail business already uses and make sure your potential vendor has had successful integrations with similar systems in other clients.
To truly get it right, get everyone involved in one room early on—your representatives from e-commerce and sales channels included!