Unified Commerce: The Catalyst to Move Beyond Channels

Retailers—pay heed to the new wave in retail, officially known as unified commerce.

Based upon the premise that customers engage with brands and not individual channels, retailers are shifting their focus to a holistic customer experience that merges the digital and in-store experiences. Unified commerce goes a step beyond omni-channel, putting the customer experience first, breaking down the walls between internal channel silos and leveraging a single commerce platform.

To put unified commerce in perspective and understand how it differs from its strategic predecessors, let’s review the evolution of retail sales channels:

  • Unified_CommerceFirst, was single channel, most retailers started with single channel offering (i.e. only brick-and-mortar or only Web-based)
  • Second, retailers evolved to multi-channel, offering multiple channels, but with little to no integration and frequently an inconsistent customer experience
  • Third, retailers attempted to adopt an omni-channel approach, integrating channels and the customer experience, but from a standpoint of still operating in separate silos and utilizing disparate technologies across channels
  • Enter, unified commerce, which eliminates individual channel silos and offers a holistic customer experience across all customer touch points, and solves the omni-channel integration challenges by leveraging a single platform

The idea of a common centralized and real-time platform for all customer engagement points is a key tenet of unified commerce. A unified commerce platform is not simply the future in-store or web platform, but combines POS, mobile, Web, and clienteling into one platform. The retail technology landscape is being forever changed as vendors and retailers work to build and implement new technology to support the rapidly changing face of retail.

The key to delivering on the seamless and personalized customer experience is real-time retail. Today’s customer can quickly, but not yet as effortlessly as needed, navigate multiple touchpoints, and expects real-time feedback, whether it’s inventory, promotions or product recommendations to personalize her experience. Again, the easiest approach to enabling real-time retail is a centralized platform that can support instantaneous transactions and access to CRM, inventory, and product information across the enterprise. Also needed, is a robust analytics engine to deliver real-time personalized promotions and recommendations, as well as provide the retailer with margin and inventory optimization.

Executing new strategies, let alone ones as transformational as unified commerce, are undoubtedly a challenge for retailers, but unified commerce presents a more relevant and simpler solution than previous approaches. Many retailers have embraced the imperative for change, but have struggled with the integration of existing channels, disparate technologies, and siloed processes. More so than ever, the customer is in the driver’s seat, and smart retailers are adopting a unified commerce approach to win and meet the expectations of today’s and tomorrow’s customer.

Brian is a leading retail IT strategist and architect, having worked as an executive and consultant for many prominent retailers, such as WalMart, TBC, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and ULTA. His experience includes strategy, selection, design, development and implementation of systems and processes across all retail channels. He specializes in the vision and realization of customer-oriented solutions that deliver strategic value and significant competitive advantage.

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