Retail & Distribution

Unified Commerce: a CIO’s Top 5 Priorities

13 June 2017

5 min

Creating a seamless shopping experience for consumers, across whichever channels they happen to choose, has been the principal focus in omnichannel retailing over the last three years. However, the bar is rising again, as retailers move beyond omnichannel towards unified commerce.


In 2017, the emphasis will switch to bringing those channels together around the common goal of serving the customer. This subtle shift from omnichannel to unified commerce has major implications for retail CIOs, whose challenge is to successfully and cost-effectively deploy the technology that will bring this holistic customer experience to life.


Make the mindshift from omnichannel to unified commerce

Many senior IT personnel already recognize the cultural changes needed to make unified commerce a reality, and are updating their strategies accordingly. Deloitte’s recent Global CIO Survey revealed that 57% of CIOs choose customers as their top priority for investment, ahead of business performance. Additionally, the National Retail Federation (NRF) notes that 69% of worldwide software spending for 2016 is centered on unified commerce based initiatives – totalling $30 billion.


To achieve unified commerce, CIOs need to ensure retailers prioritize two things: firstly, a single view of the customer, stock and orders in real-time (which we will discuss in greater detail shortly); and secondly the technical agility to act on this holistic view.


It is important CIOs look at the technology roadmap beyond customer experience pain points right now, and focus on the long-term journey, implementing the technology and processes needed to enable flexibility and scalability.


They also need to lay the right technical foundations: a service-oriented architecture (SOA) for bonding together different retail systems, in tandem with a business process management (BPM) solution, to ensure all systems are working from consistent, accurate and easily-accessed data.


Obtain a single view of the customer


As we’ve already mentioned, a single, real-time view of customers, inventory and orders is critical to unified commerce. Today’s shoppers have very specific service expectations, and want to be recognized and rewarded based on their behaviors and value in all channels.


Despite this, only 18% of retailers have the unified, real-time cross-channel inventory management systems needed to match supply to demand, according to Boston Retail Partners research. Meanwhile, Aberdeen Group data shows a massive 89% of consumers are frustrated by a loss of context when they switch between channels.


Clearly there is still work to be done, and the CIO’s role is to ensure that key stakeholders across the business understand the need for technology investment to facilitate greater customer centricity.


Once business buy-in has been secured, IT teams then need to tackle the logistical challenges of bringing together data in various locations, and integrating it in a single platform or dashboard, to enable a truly holistic customer view.


CIOs must be aware that master data management systems are fundamental to efficiently collating data – ensuring that a single customer view is not only possible, but that actionable insight can be leveraged across the business to enhance the customer experience.


Digitize the store

Our previous point touched on the fact that the CIO plays a vital role in connecting the information retail businesses generate with personnel who can use it, in order to make interactions more customer-centric. Nowhere is this more important than bricks-and-mortar.


In 2017, retail IT teams have a pivotal role to play in bringing new, digital capabilities to the store, to place it at the heart of the unified commerce experience. In fact, many organisations are already making inroads in this area; RetailMeNot research reveals that 73% of retailers are planning to switch from traditional to a more technology-focused retail model over the next two years.


With digital investment, stores can become a brand showroom, a product research point, a customer service hub, and an efficient warehouse depository for click-and-collect customers. However, any technology needs to be implemented in a way that enables multiple functions without technical complexity.


The CIO’s main priority, therefore, is to select and implement a unified retail platform that is capable of connecting shoppers and store associates to digital devices today, and which can integrate new technologies as they come to market, without compromising the overall customer experience.


Mobilize store associates


As we touched on in our previous point, digitizing the store can empower front-line staff to serve the customer better – and mobile technology will play a critical role in physical customer engagement this year.


Ultimately, unified commerce is centred on building experiences around shoppers’ needs, and mobile technology embodies this. Standards in this area are very much being set by the luxury sector, where designer brands such as Victoria Beckham are forgoing fixed point of sale (POS) entirely. In fact, personalized interactions through mobile clienteling will drive 40% of the luxury market’s growth by 2020, Exane BNP Paribas predicts.


For CIOs, the challenge will be to find the right hardware for store associates to use, and integrate it in a way that enables them to seamlessly access data such as previous orders, loyalty points, inventory availability, order status, rich media content and product reviews. Not only that, but they must put in place adequate resources to maintain and management mobile POS technology, as the number of devices across the store estate continues to grow.


And the pressure is on to do move quickly; over 80% of retail CIOs have already deployed mobile devices to store associates, according to NRF data, or plan to deploy them within three years.


Migrate to the cloud

When it comes to creating a unified commerce strategy, one theme that keeps repeating for CIOs is the challenge surrounding technical complexity and speed of deployment.


Retail CIOs acknowledge that the rich functionality needed to support a unified customer experience can become incredibly complex to manage on-premise. Therefore, they need to look to the cloud as the quickest, simplest, most cost-effective way to manage the growing technology burden on their business.


From a technical perspective, the benefits of cloud migration are clear. According to Cloud Industry Forum research, 84% of the businesses already in the cloud moved there for greater operational innovation, while over half (56%) say the cloud has given them a competitive advantage.


The right cloud-based technology delivering on-demand SaaS gives retail businesses the ability to add new devices and extra functions relatively quickly. Not only that, as long there is a connection, data can be accessed and analysed anywhere, and on any device – giving retailers the flexibility to explore temporary locations such as pop-up stores.


Opting for the cloud also reduces the technical burden associated with updating and upgrading software that can impact performance, as automatic updates ensure front-line staff are always equipped with the latest capabilities.


For retail CIOs, therefore, the question of cloud migration should not be if, but how quickly. When Forrester released its 10 cloud trend predictions for 2017, its first piece of advice was “get your private cloud and SaaS strategy in shape in 2017 — start now!” Mass migration to the cloud has already begun, and retail IT teams that rest on their heels will rapidly find their unified commerce strategies slipping behind their competitors.


For support with your unified commerce experience, get in touch with Cegid.

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