Retail is a fast-paced, customer-orientated space, both in the physical and virtual worlds. To remain competitive, retailers must create a shopping experience that appeals to every facet of the consumer, and delivers at every point of engagement. Despite omnichannel being the focus of most retail businesses over the past few years, it is now old news. Unified commerce is the new holy grail of the industry, and those retailers who aren’t on board may soon find themselves in critical condition.
What is unified commerce?
Unified commerce still places the highest value on customer experience, but instead of multiple internal channels of operation, it leverages a single, centralised platform that not only operates in real-time, but that can also work with all your customer engagement points.
A report by Gartner states that 89% of retail companies were expected to be competing primarily on customer experience by the end of 2016. While exact figures are not yet available, the intense re-focus on customer experience we have seen during the last 18 months would suggest that Gartner’s prediction is fairly accurate¹.
How is unified commerce different from omnichannel?
Omnichannel strategies certainly talk the talk about creating a consistent customer experience across all sales channels, but the delivery doesn’t always come up to scratch. Why? The truth is that legacy systems can’t keep up with today’s retail environment. Most retailers still operate stand-alone systems for each channel. The information for each channel becomes siloed, and cannot be shared without considerable investment in integration. Even then, some things are often lost in translation, leading to a vat of inconsistent, inaccurate data shared across the business that makes it virtually impossible to deliver the valuable experience consumers demand.
Many retailers have been prevented from getting the best out of their retail management systems, with one in four blaming poor integration with other applications. Unified commerce offers a solution to this problem. By bringing all your sales channels into one, centralised, real-time platform for all points of customer engagement, you can eliminate confusion and ensure that accurate information is available to customers and merchants when they need it most.
Benefits of unified commerce
There are many benefits and possibilities afforded by unified commerce, but ultimately, they all help to empower retailers to deliver a superior customer experience, which in turn drives sales, revenue and customer loyalty. Let’s break it down.
One of the biggest challenges of selling across multiple channels is aligning your inventory. This is made particularly difficult when you factor in that today’s customers refuse to be limited by their return options or by lack of availability of a particular product instore. A survey of 7000 consumers across 7 countries conducted by Zendesk (with help from Loudhouse), found that 47% expect to be able to return their goods through a different channel to the one that they purchased through³.
Unified commerce empowers staff by ensuring that all inventory is visible and accurate, wherever it may be. A concept known as ‘endless aisle’ is made simple when you have a unified commerce platform, as if an item is out of stock in-store, sales staff can quickly and simply check the inventory and arrange to ship the item directly to the consumer. This is important as it helps to prevent your customers from going to your nearest competitor and from leaving your store dissatisfied, having had a bad experience.
Simply put, unified commerce allows for real-time, cross-channel inventory synchronisation that makes endless aisle and other positive, inventory-based customer experience possible.
Multiple fulfilment options
Customers also don’t like to be restricted by their fulfilment options. The point of delivery is the point at which your customer will judge the ability of your business to keep your promise. It can form the basis of an opinion as to whether a customer has had a good or bad experience, and whether they choose to spend with you again.
Although speed is and always will be a serious consideration for many customers, according to many studies it is increasingly trumped by convenience. Consumers’ lives are busier than ever before and they want fulfilment that fits around them. This can include options such as nominated delivery days, delivery-day tracking and/or notifications of approximate delivery times. Collection points and more recently, lockers, are also rapidly gaining popularity too, giving consumers yet another avenue to collect their goods at a time and location that is convenient to them.
Unified commerce platforms can utilise customer and inventory data to support the implementation of multiple fulfilment options so that your retail business can deliver an exemplary customer experience every time.
Digitising the store
Unified commerce is only possible thanks to the revolutionary, innovative technologies that have been developed in the last few years. It has taken the best elements from each legacy system, and unified and reworked them to create a singular, simplified technology that has all the capabilities of each and the power of them combined.
Two of the biggest innovations in retail technology are mobile POS and clienteling. Mobile POS gives your sales staff the power to engage with your customers anywhere in the store, while mobile clienteling can ensure your team have the customer information they need to provide a truly personalised and relevant experience. Armed with vital, real-time customer, product, promotion and stock information, your sales advisors can drive customer sales and loyalty by providing an unrivalled level of customer focus.
A report conducted by Capterra found that 48% of respondents preferred mobile to traditional POS, and 28% stated that mobile POS has increased the number of products a customer buys⁴. With the market predicted to continue to develop at an exponential rate until the end of the decade, mobile POS and clienteling is fast-becoming a must-have for any competitive retailer.
Many retailers have stated that trying to integrate multiple systems is an expensive endeavour, with an average spend of £121,857 per company cited in a report by Badgley Mischka⁵. Unified commerce platforms can cost far less while producing far superior results.
The bottom line
In order to deliver the very best shopping experience, retailers need to deliver what consumers want. 84% of customers believe that retailers should better integrate their online and offline channels². For the last few decades, retailers have used different systems for each area of their business, with virtually no integration. This has meant time-consuming and costly attempts to analyse each silo of information. However, the inaccuracies of working this way has led to a greater cost – falling customer satisfaction levels as failure to effectively communicate across all channels of sale virtually guarantees an inability to deliver a valuable customer experience. Unified commerce is the solution. By adopting a unified commerce platform your retail business can react to consumer demands in real-time. Not in stock instore? No problem, arrange a delivery direct to the customer’s door. Bought online and want to return to store? Simple, the synchronised inventory means that the location of the product is tracked and the inventory automatically updated. A unified commerce platform leverages all your systems into one user-friendly, centralised, real-time hub that can be accessed anywhere, anytime, working with every single one of your customer engagement points to provide an exemplary experience, however, whenever and wherever your customers choose to shop.
If you would like to find out more about how unified commerce can transform your business operations, drive sales and deliver greater customer satisfaction levels than ever before, the team at Cegid would love to hear from you.