How can retailers benefit from a truly unified approach to commerce?

Today the idea of walking into a store and having an assistant greet you with a tablet to instantly pull up your favourite product is no longer the stuff of sci-fi. This type of customer interaction is gradually becoming a reality as retailers work towards a unified approach. Brands understand that offering consumers one, seamless experience and creating new and interactive shopping opportunities is the path to customer satisfaction and business success.

However, while many retailers talk the omnichannel talk, in reality many brands are failing to deliver a truly unified approach to commerce. The result? A missed opportunity to build even deeper customer relationships. In a world where 89 per cent of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator, this cannot be overlooked.

Yet, building strong customer relationships and offering a differentiated experience, is becoming increasingly complicated for retailers.

The modern shopping journey

This is because today’s shopping journey is non-linear; no longer do we walk into a store, browse and then make a purchase. Often, the journey starts long before we even enter the store. You could see the latest running shoes on social media and decide you want to buy them. From your mobile, you could use ‘buy now’ button and the purchase is made instantly. Or, if the social media post links to the brand’s site, you might click through, add them to your basket and plan to finish the transaction when you have more time. Later that day, you might happen to walk past the brand’s high-street store. The associate is able to instantly see your online basket and you walk out a few minutes later, trainers in hand, ready to complete your evening run in style.

This example highlights how the ‘digitisation-of-everything’ has created more and more touchpoints for consumers on and offline. As a result the unified experience is more complex for retailers to bring to life.

Quite simply, most retailers still rely on disparate legacy systems for different touchpoints. This makes integration difficult and creates a scattering of data across different retail functions. Without joining it all together, this data lacks any real meaning: retailers are unable to see the whole picture when it comes to a customer as their information is stored in many different places.  

While omnichannel has long been seen as a goal, it’s only recently that many brands have realised that they can now deploy a new and improved approach to truly deliver it. Today’s retailers are waking up to the fact that they need a unified commerce platform that allows for a shared view of customers, orders, products and behaviours across all aspects of the shopping journey.

Unified commerce

Unified commerce breaks down the walls of omnichannel and connects everything in order to provide a single view of the customer. This single view allows retailers to delight customers at every turn and create a better customer experience overall. No matter what channel they are using, the retailer will know where they are in their purchasing journey and provide them with a seamless experience. 

With the consumer increasingly using their mobile for searching and buying, retailers clearly need to keep in touch with how consumers are operating. Everything should be united on mobile – product information should be accurate and consistent; recommendations should be relevant based on past purchases and browsing history; and inventory information should be available. Essentially, any experience, whether online or in-store, should be consistent with mobile, whilst also making use of tools, like Apple Pay and Android Pay, to make the experience frictionless. This mobile-first approach, combined with the personalisation enabled by unified commerce, makes for the ultimate customer experience.

Customer experience is king 

This matters because customer expectations are on the rise. In fact by 2020, 45 per cent of consumers and 57 per cent of business buyers say they will switch brands if a company doesn’t actively anticipate their needs. Adopting a customer centric approach is critical to business success. If companies do not get on board and adopt new technologies to put the customer at the centre of their business, they are at risk of losing customers.

ECCO is a great example of a brand tapping into the latest technologies to create a more customer centric approach. Just a couple of years after embarking on its first ecommerce offering, the global shoe retailer began piloting its ‘endless aisle’ application. By arming in-store associates with tablets, employees can offer customers both a greater range of choices and information as well as opportunities to purchase items that are out of stock in the store. Transactions previously made at the point of sale were manual and time consuming. Now, associates can engage with shoppers anywhere in the store and ship for free, providing a seamless and convenient shopping experience.

As well as offering better individual customer experiences, this unified approach to commerce enables retailers to become more responsive. Easy access to joined up data allows them to instantly recognise trends and opportunities in real time. What’s more, they don’t need a team of data scientists to do this. With tools like Salesforce Einstein, anyone can have this insight at their fingertips, as well as prompts on how to action it. For example, an in-store associate might see their customer has been browsing a particular style online. Add predictive intelligence to this and the app will prompt the associate to suggest a blue dress since Mrs. Jones buys a dress of this colour every year at this time. This information can be used right across the organisation to influence product developments and customer campaigns. If retailers are able to respond quickly to broader trends, even as they emerge, it gives them even more opportunities to deliver better customer experiences.

With new technologies coming online all the time, customers are only going to get more connected and shopping journeys more complicated. Given this, it is important for retailers to set their strategy for unified commerce right now in order to get ahead. Retailers can no longer maintain a fragmented view of customers, with online and in-store profiles of the same customer existing separately. It’s time to break down the silos and link up the data in order to give customers the best and most personalised experience possible.

Jamie Merrick, Director of Strategic Solutions at Salesforce Commerce Cloud
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