A recent TCS report underscores the prevailing consensus among retailers, shedding light on a fascinating and promising development within the industry. According to it, 77% of retailers have embraced the idea that unified commerce offers a seamless and data-consistent retail experience. 57% of retailers believe that this approach doesn’t involve disparate channels across different platforms.
Indeed, this serves as evidence of the growing recognition of unified commerce. However, the report also sheds light on the fact that only 3% of retailers are, in reality, able to offer a truly unified experience. That’s something that needs to be addressed for businesses to truly leverage the benefits that unified commerce brings to the table.
For the purpose of this article, we explore what(s) and why(s) of unified commerce — examining the driving forces behind this development, the implementation challenges, and some tips and best practices to address bottlenecks in adoption.
What Is Unified Commerce? (And Why Is It Important?)
Unified commerce is a holistic, customer-centric approach to retail that seamlessly merges the various sales channels and touchpoints into a singular, cohesive system. It’s not just a buzzword; it’s a necessity in an era where consumers traverse a multitude of channels — from physical stores to eCommerce websites, mobile apps, and social media — often within a single shopping journey.
For example, picture yourself shopping for a new smartphone. You may start by browsing the phone’s features on the brand’s website, visit their physical store to see it in person, and then use their mobile app to make the purchase — all via a seamless, consistent, omnichannel user experience. To sustain user engagement and amplify conversions, brands must be able to accommodate such a multi-platform journey with a unified commerce approach.
Retailers embracing this approach are reaping substantial benefits, with annual revenue growth rates typically 3-6 times higher than those without unified commerce. Additionally, during the tumultuous times of the COVID-19 pandemic, 50% of unified commerce retailers reported that their transactions remained consistent — showcasing the resilience of this approach.
What Are the Challenges of Unified Commerce?
Unified commerce is not without its difficulties. These challenges can be categorized across frontend operations and backend operations.
- Customer Experience: In the unified commerce model, delivering a consistent and exceptional customer experience across all channels is paramount. This means ensuring that every touchpoint — from in-store interactions to online shopping — is unified, user-friendly, and facilitates an exceptional buyer journey.
- User Interface: The UI across various channels must be intuitive, easy to navigate, and aesthetically pleasing because consistency in design is crucial to avoid confusion and frustration for customers.
- Personalization: Creating an eCommerce personalization strategy for a seamless shopping experience across multiple channels is another major challenge. Customers expect personalized product recommendations, content, and offers, regardless of the channel they use.
- Data Integration: Unified commerce relies on seamless data integration between various systems and channels. This is a complex task, often involving legacy systems, third-party integrations, and diverse data formats.
- Inventory Management: Maintaining real-time inventory visibility across all channels is essential to prevent overselling or disappointing customers. However, efficient inventory management can be challenging, especially for businesses with a large product catalog. Problems may compound during festive seasons when the traffic is largely uneven.
- Order Fulfillment: Efficient order fulfillment is another critical aspect of unified commerce, as it involves coordinating the distribution network, ensuring timely delivery, and managing returns.
How To Successfully Implement Unified Commerce?
Successfully implementing unified commerce necessitates a planned and well-thought-out approach. For retailers wishing to engage on this road, here are some tips and best practices:
Comprehensive Data Management
A solid foundation for unified commerce is built on robust data management, which includes data cleansing, normalization, and integration to ensure a single source of truth for all customer and product data.
Scalable Technology Infrastructure
Invest in a flexible and scalable technology infrastructure that can adapt to evolving customer expectations and changing market dynamics. Cloud-based solutions can be instrumental in achieving this.
Collaboration between departments is essential. Silos need to be broken down, and different teams — from IT to marketing and customer service — must work in unison for effective and unified customer experience management.
Choose technologies that can seamlessly integrate with each other. APIs, middleware, and ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) tools can prove pivotal in connecting disparate systems and ensuring smooth data flow. Apart from this, decide between eCommerce tools that can support specific use cases.
Use data analytics to gain granular insights into customer behavior and preferences. This data can be further used for targeted marketing, personalization, and customer journey optimization.
Engage with customers across all channels by providing consistent replies and personalized services. Social media, email marketing, and loyalty programs can be further leveraged to foster lasting relationships.
Unified commerce is more than a buzzword in today’s experience-driven market. It’s a necessity for eCommerce firms to remain competitive and exceed customer expectations.
However, to dominate this experience economy, it’s prudent for enterprises to collaborate with a capable technology partner along the lines of strategy, technology, and design.
At Ignitiv, we have a track record of assisting businesses in implementing unified commerce solutions. We help build smooth, customer-centric purchasing experiences that distinguish the brand in an otherwise competitive eCommerce marketplace. Contact us for more information.