How Unified Commerce will Impact Your Retail Business
Why Unified Commerce?
Unified commerce has become a trendy buzzword over the last few years, but is it truly worth considering if you are a midsized retailer?
As you may already know, modern consumers are always connected. They expect a seamless shopping experience across all channels and devices available to them. One such expectation, for instance, is the ability to have the sales clerk check which location has the item the customer wants and then immediately set up its delivery either to the store or the customer’s home. If your retail chain doesn’t offer that, then it’s possible that some of your customers have already pledged their allegiance to the retailer that does.
It’s not surprising then that, according to Gartner, 89% of businesses soon expect to compete primarily on customer experience.
That’s where unified commerce comes in. By consolidating all your physical and digital channels in one place, it delivers accurate, real-time data that allows you to easily understand and meet your customers’ expectations.
Unified Commerce vs. Omnichannel vs. Multichannel
If you’ve heard the term “omnichannel,” then you might be wondering how unified commerce differs from that. It’s simple – omnichannel is a type of experience and unified commerce is a means to deliver that experience.
You can also think of unified commerce as the next evolutionary step for omnichannel, which in turn was the evolution of multichannel. To make things clearer, let’s define each term:
Multichannel: This refers to the use of multiple channels, such as the web, social media, mobile apps and emails, to attract and engage customers. So, if your retail chain has a website and a social media page, then you’re delivering a multichannel experience.
The major issue with the multichannel experience is that it doesn’t offer consistency across all channels and devices. For example, you may have a visually appealing website with great content, but your Facebook and Twitter pages are just average. Furthermore, your website may look fantastic on a laptop, but it’s absolutely subpar on a smartphone. These discrepancies can detract customers.
Omnichannel: The solution to the problems above is, of course, the omnichannel experience – the delivery of consistency across all channels and devices. So, if your mobile app, social media pages and website have the same look, feel and messaging on every device, then you’ve moved past multichannel to omnichannel.
However, this sort of experience is often tough to deliver because each channel needs to be managed through its own interface, which is both time-consuming and costly.
Unified commerce: This is a method of delivering the omnichannel experience. By relying on a single, centralized platform to manage all customer communications, retailers can easily create the same look, feel and messaging across all their channels and devices.
So, instead of having multiple interfaces, they only need to worry about one. That’s what unified commerce is in a nutshell.
What you get with unified commerce
There are many different platforms for retailers to use, but not all of them have unified commerce functionalities. So, here are some trademarks:
- Technological unification of all sales and marketing channels, business functions, people and locations
- Ability to cater services, messaging and other experiences to customers based on their individual interests and needs
- 24/7 access to live data and metrics for everyone at the business
- Exceptional customer support that requires minimal involvement from IT
- Perfect website and mobile app performance, even during peak times
- Responsive design across all devices
- Simplified checkout process through payment platforms like Apple Pay and/or PayPal
1 – Key Benefits of Unified Commerce
Now that we’ve established what unified commerce is, let’s take a closer look at its benefits.
Single data model: Having one platform to manage all your channels means that you’re tied to only one data model. This allows everyone at your company to quickly look up complete real-time customer information, including preferences, wants and previous purchases, from one place, leading to more meaningful customer interactions at every opportunity.
Another key aspect of having one unified platform is the ability to provide customer-centric pricing and product availability across all channels and locations. For instance, if a customer walks into your store in search of a size 10 black shoe, but you only have a size 9 on hand, you can quickly find out where the size 10 shoe is and deliver it to the customer’s home – perhaps even on the same day.
Improved Point of Sale (POS) technology: With unified commerce, retailers can leverage a more advanced Point of Sale (POS) system that provides self-checkout, mobile payments, click-and-collect stations and many other functions. This technology makes customer processing fast and easy, while delivering a wide variety of consumer data, such as preferences and purchase history, in real time.
Despite the power of such a system, RIS News’ “13th Annual Store Systems Study” has discovered that only 28% of retailers are up to date it with POS technology, while EKN Research’s “Retail Point-of-Sale Blueprint” shows that the average POS system is 6.7 years old.
Outdated hardware tends to have limited access to customer data, slow processing speed and low storage, making it largely unsuitable for delivering a proper cross-channel experience.
Inventory visibility: Unified commerce provides retailers with a full view of their entire inventory at any given time. With this technology, you can update stocking levels across all your channels in real time, guaranteeing information accuracy and preventing you from overselling or underselling certain products.
Increased margins: According to National Retail Federation (NRF), 52% of retailers expect a unified commerce platform to help decrease the cost of inventory management and labour, both of which are directly tied to margin. By gaining a better view of their inventory and eliminating manual procedures, they can increase inventory turnover, reduce lost sales and improve employee productivity.
Revenue growth: A survey conducted by NRF shows that 38% of retailers hope to see an improvement in average order value, conversion rate and promotional effectiveness as a result of a unified commerce platform. By easily monitoring customer needs, preferences and purchase history across all channels, retailers can make more informed decisions when it comes to pricing, incentives and promotions, which in turn generates more revenue.
2 – Implementing Unified Commerce
Though a unified commerce platform has a lot of potential benefits, many retailers believe that implementing one would be too complex, time-consuming and costly, which is why they would rather avoid it.
This argument is largely true, particularly if your infrastructure and hardware are out of date. According to Boston Retail Partners (PR), 37% of retailers have a POS system that’s more than five years old, which makes it ineligible for delivering a unified customer experience.
This means that you may have to change your entire infrastructure before even considering unified commerce. However, this doesn’t have to be done overnight – you can take your time and implement such a platform when you’re fully prepared.
Where to start
To make your transition to unified commerce as smooth as possible, be sure to plan for the following key aspects.
Organizational impact: Begin by communicating the value of unified commerce to the people at your organization, especially managers and directors, to make sure everyone is aligned on your strategy and vision. You should also reevaluate compensation, roles, incentives and metrics across different store and e-commerce staffs to make sure they can deliver a seamless cross-channel customer experience.
Technology architecture and roadmap: Create a strategy for consolidating key data elements and functionality across all your customer-facing technologies to analyze how your current architecture affects cost and customer experience. You should also outline your future architecture, technology requirements and platform transition path. Finally, your strategic vendor partners will need to be onboard with your vision, so that they can help you enact it down the road.
Financial requirements: Figure out your business and technological costs across margin, value and revenue to present a business case to your stakeholders and create a comprehensive budget. You should also evaluate all your commerce initiatives to see if they match your customers’ preferences and define what changes you need to make before switching to a unified commerce platform.
The Future of Unified Commerce
By putting the customer at the centre of the retail experience, unified commerce allows retailers to effortlessly fuse the wide selection of goods available online with the personable service offered in-store.
According to a report from BPR, 56% of retailers have decided that building a consistent brand experience across all channels should be their top digital priority, while 73% plan to implement a unified commerce platform by the end of 2019.
If you’re worried that online shopping will one day put your retail chain out of business, then your digital store needs to become as effective at generating revenue as your brick-and-mortar locations. The only way to achieve that today is through unified commerce.
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