Today’s consumers have more access than ever to the best products, the latest technologies, and the coolest brands for pretty much any need. However, they don’t always have access to a seamless shopping experience, in part because retailers been slow to embrace a unified commerce strategy.
The recently popularized omnichannel approach was supposed to address this and give customers a smooth, consistent shopping experience across every e-web, mobile, app, and in-store sales channel. But while omnichannel takes a quality swing at integrating a kludge of systems and applications, it hasn’t quite solved the silos that happen from disconnected systems, which can complicate processes and hinder the ability to deliver a cohesive customer experience.
Here’s why unified commerce is gaining favor and how it helps retailers deliver a consistent experience no matter how or where its customers are shopping.
81% of retailers will have deployed unified commerce by the end of 2020.
– Boston Retail Partners 2018 POS/Customer Engagement Survey of 500 top North American retailers
What is a Unified Commerce Platform?
Unified commerce takes the omnichannel experience much further by taking all the disconnected IT systems and replacing them with a single, centralized platform. Within that platform are combined e-commerce, m-commerce (mobile commerce), order fulfillment, inventory management, customer relationship management (CRM), and other technologies. By integrating everything onto a single platform, companies can rid themselves of internal channels that are operating in their own silos.
Disconnected systems act as data silos, and the data they gather becomes redundant and limited in its use because they cannot inherently communicate with one another. Because of this all-too-common scenario, companies tend to make decisions based on incomplete data, which hinders their ability to provide the type of customer experience their consumers demand. A centralized unified commerce platform eliminates that bottleneck and ensures that the right systems are connected and sharing data.
Omnichannel vs. Unified Commerce
An omnichannel strategy links the many different digital and physical channels so that the customer experience is seamless. Where unified commerce differs is that it removes the possibility of leaving out a section of data, because it is designed to ensure systems are communicating and data is freely moving. Because omnichannel is often held together with manual processes and complex integrations, the strategy can create data silos, hinder efficiency, and grow quite expensive.
Unified commerce should be a goal for all enterprises because it’s a strategy designed to provide businesses a single source of truth to help effectively and seamlessly engage customers across all its channels. Rather than simply connecting the different systems in use, as omnichannel does, a unified commerce strategy leverages a centralized business platform to enable consistent, accurate information across every organizational channel.
Core Components of Unified Commerce
There are four components that make up a unified commerce platform. They are interactions, channels, systems, and products.
- Interactions – Because your customers are going to interact with many different sales channels of your business like e-commerce, mobile, and in-store, it is critical that you are recording their behavior in a unified way across each. Instead of just recording how your business interacts with customers, interactions also give insight into how your business should act within its own departments, in order to provide the best customer experience possible.
- Channels – Every channel must be able to provide customers an enjoyable and seamless experience. If and when a customer switches to a different channel within your enterprise, the experience must remain smooth and easy to navigate. Consistency is the key and is a core focus of unified commerce. A good example is having the same promotions available in person, online, or through a mobile app, so a customer doesn’t have to check, say, Amazon for a better deal before checking out.
- Systems – All of the systems within an organization must be working cohesively with one another. Whether it’s a retail-management application, POS solution, e-commerce platforms, or channel management solution, each is important for specific business functions and as part of a larger ecosystem.
- Products – Without question, product information must be accurate and up to date. Along the buying journey, unifying your product information across all channels is integral to creating a unified commerce platform that delivers the right information to your customers and also your sales teams.
5 Ways Unified Commerce Will Impact Your Retail Business
Now that you have an idea of the differences between an omnichannel retail experience and unified commerce, here are five ways that a unified commerce strategy can improve the customer experience.
- Increased Sales: There isn’t anything bigger than this one. With a unified commerce strategy, companies can leverage the experience to acquire new customers because it makes the buying and shopping process simple for anyone to use. Whether customers want to buy online, pick up in store, or any other combination of returning items, it’s possible with unified commerce. Organizations are then able to leverage that data by improving their marketing and promotional campaigns to increase sales.
- Reduced Errors: The omnichannel experience can lead to costly errors because of the disparate and disconnected systems that it represents. Unified commerce, on the other hand, leverages technology to connect your ecosystem into a single source of truth, which reduces errors, costs, and improves a company’s operational efficiency.
- Forecasting: Because the data you have will never be more accurate, it allows your company to make better predictions and forecasting as to customer behavior. Businesses can design promotions, sales, and other revenue-generating initiatives based on the unified commerce approach.
- Inventory Management: The unified commerce experience provides organizations cross-channel visibility to give them an increased awareness of what they have – and don’t have – in inventory. From there, companies can stop overselling and underselling products, which can lead to added inventory costs, logistics expenses, and SLA fines.
- Automated Business Processes: Instead of spending time managing manual and time-consuming business processes, a centralized platform enables companies to automate your critical processes. Employee productivity improves because they are spending their time on more valuable tasks that drive revenue and improve the customer experience.
How to Deliver Unified Commerce Experiences
Companies must be able to manage their integration across different systems, applications, customers, and partners. The various data processes these technologies activate comprise a company’s digital business ecosystem.
Ecosystem integration is fundamental to unified commerce because it leverages a centralized platform that is designed to integrate critical business systems and streamline the processes that enable your important customer interactions. Accelerating integration within your ecosystem, then, will enable your enterprise to take on the integration requirements of any new system and improve your operational agility.
Connect with Cleo today to learn how ecosystem integration ensures retailers can provide the unified commerce experience that today’s consumers demand.