Unification Nation – Unified commerce transforming the retail customer experience

Canadian Retailer – Picture this: A customer walks through a retailer’s front door. They’ve come for a click-and-collect item they purchased on their laptop 24 hours earlier. Before they leave the store, they spend a few minutes browsing (simultaneously comparing prices on the ever-ubiquitous Amazon), and as they pass relevant items, the store’s smartphone app displays in-store deals that correspond to both their location, and their buying habits. They pick up a few more products—some of which they purchase, some they leave behind. At the checkout, they seamlessly combine a physical purchase with a digital purchase. As they make their way to the parking lot, their social media feed shows an ad for one of the items they left behind, along with a coupon for 15 per cent off, which, when clicked, allows them to purchase the item in the store’s mobile app—alongside other related items—and have these delivered to their home.

Quotes from Brian Brunk (pages 10-13):

“Customer expectations in retail are increasing, regardless of a retailer’s size,” adds Brian Bunk, Principal at BRP, retail consulting firm, “and to compete, winning retailers are adopting a unified commerce strategy. The benefits are numerous: improved customer experience, increasing expectations, simplified and agile technology, cross-channel inventory visibility and availability, flexible ordering and delivery options, personalization… And most of these benefits are becoming table stakes in today’s competitive retail market.”

It’s a lot to manage at once, Bunk admits—but it’s a feat made possible through the use of an accessible, cloud-based commerce platform. “The idea of a common, cloud-based, real-time commerce platform for all customer engagement points is a key tenet of unified commerce,” he says. “A unified commerce platform combines POS, mobile, web, order management, call centre and clienteling into one common integrated platform, which enables a holistic and seamless customer experience no matter how, when or where they shop with a retailer.”

And, Bunk adds, having the right technology in place can transform the customer experience even behind the scenes, through providing up-to-the moment inventory management, targeted recommendations based on data, and allowing for more nimble supply chains. “Unified commerce not only offers a unified view of customer and inventory data, but also offers retailers the ability to provide ‘endless aisle’ capabilities and the ability to ‘save the sale’ by selling merchandise from – or to – any channels,” he says. “Cross-channel inventory availability can reduce inventory management costs and enhance customer service by giving customers further purchasing options.”

And, as both Bunk and Hetu point out, a cohesive unified commerce strategy isn’t just for the big retailers. Not only will the large-scale changes required be simpler for small and mid-size businesses, but those same businesses could also run the greatest risk of being left behind. With consumer expectations constantly evolving, and retailers competing for ever-more elaborate ways of enhancing the customer experience, Bunk argues that the time for unified commerce is now.

“The store of the future will require a personal, mobile, relevant, ubiquitous and secure environment to meet rising customer expectations,” he explains. “Retailers need to operate in real-time, with customer and product information accessible across the enterprise—this necessitates cloud-based applications and a reliable, responsive network. Defining what you want your customer experience to be is key. Having the journey defined allows a retailer to deliver components of the journey based on business value and impact. Developing these components using modern technology and with a holistic view will allow the successful retailer of tomorrow to adapt as consumer expectations continue to evolve.”

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