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Unified commerce: Rethinking retail to meet today’s expectations

artificial intelligence retail
(Image credit: Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock)

The evolution of digital commerce has changed the way customers interact with brands. It not only does represent the customer-facing part of the business, but it is also a significant driver of revenue. Today, digital commerce is morphing into an experience-driven thing. Retail is one of the verticals where the experience really can leave a lasting impression. And unified commerce might just be the perfect retail solution for bringing engaging customer experiences to life.

So what exactly is unified commerce?

Point of Sale, e-commerce, m-commerce, kiosks, digital signage, and more – these are the tools that retailers employ to create an omnichannel experience for their customers. However, because of the inherent complexities of integrating software systems and establishing effective communication, the result is often a fragmented experience that does not quite meet the customer’s expectations.

Enter Unified Commerce – the combination of e-commerce, m-commerce, order fulfillment, inventory management, customer relationship management, Point of Sale, IoT enabled devices, and more, all in one platform. This gives retailers the capability to provide a personalized, continuous, and consistent experience across multiple channels throughout the buying journey. Whether it’s the searching, browsing, transacting, acquiring, or consuming phase, Unified Commerce can ensure a truly seamless customer experience beyond omnichannel.

Why do retailers need unified commerce?

According to PWC research, more than 85 percent of buyers will gladly pay a premium for exceptional customer experiences. These days, the consumer has more choices than ever before and that too right at their fingertips. It’s relatively easy for most of them to find what they’re looking for at a reasonable price and have it delivered quite conveniently. These factors are no longer differentiators.

Today’s customers desire and expect more – a highly personalized experience, along with service that’s fast, frictionless, and secure. This is where unified commerce excels by connecting all customer touchpoints through a centralized platform.

What are the real-world benefits?

The buying journey has transformed with the advent of smart, connected devices that provide easy and often instant access to various channels. As a result, retailers must overcome the challenge of creating consistent and continuous experiences across channels and through multiple phases of the journey. Unified commerce achieves this while taking things a step further with greater levels of personalization that helps brands connect with their customers in more meaningful ways.

Let’s take a look at an example that highlights some key benefits of the Unified Commerce approach. Say, your current customer data is being handled by a host of separate systems such as Point of Sale, e-commerce, and m-commerce, to name a few. More often than not, these are legacy systems that were never designed to communicate with each other. The result is you've now got an inefficient system that is going to get in the way of creating a seamless customer experience. A possible solution would be to unify the customer-facing platform that is integrated with all the systems, providing a consolidated view of the customer to every team. Now, imagine a potential customer enters into your store. As he/she explores and compares products, currently running offers and deals can be pushed to their smart phone. The retailer can get better understanding of customer behavior, like what they are looking into, their interest, and whether they bought or not. Soon after, the customer can be retargeted through social media or banner ad to promote complimentary deals.

The idea is simple - if you give customers a memorable experience, they will buy more, stay loyal to your brand, and share their fantastic experience with friends.

Here's how unified commerce can help retailers make it happen.

The process of integrating separate systems is lengthy and involves finding experts who have in-depth knowledge of all the software solutions. Needless to say, this is not easy or cost-effective. With a unified system, there will no longer be any need to spend additional time and money on integrations.

With separate systems, delays in communication are common. This can result in an item being available on the website when, in reality, it is no longer in stock. A simple mistake like this can lead to losing a valuable customer. A single database helps in significantly reducing the chance of errors.

With a unified system, you get a real-time and complete overview of all the processes, which is crucial for effective and efficient management. Additionally, it ensures a single version of the truth, enabling retailers to simplify operations, remove redundancies, and analyze behavior more accurately.

Today's shoppers want the convenience of checking the availability of products across all stores, placing an order for out-of-stock items when they walk into a retail outlet, getting it delivered to their preferred address, or getting in-store after-sales support for products they may have purchased online. Unified commerce can make this flawless customer experience possible with no hassles along the way.

Before we get there…

There are some clear challenges that retailers must overcome before they can implement a unified system. Most brands are still dealing with disparate back-end systems that are complex and not conducive to the idea of integration. It's also common for companies to maintain a multitude of front-end systems that manage consumer engagements across various channels. Phasing out these legacy systems, while adopting an integrated approach, is anything but easy. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for a coherent unified system, and not every business will be ready for a rapid shift to unified commerce. Identifying the obstacles and properly transitioning will go a long way in paving the way for success.

In conclusion

Perhaps the best way to begin the transition to unified commerce is to gain a deeper understanding of how customers are using technology in their everyday lives. This can become the foundation for building coherent customer-facing processes that improve the experience and make lives simpler, safer, and more exciting. Brands understand this, and many have already prioritized the move to a unified platform. The challenges may be many, but the possibilities are endless.

Shashin Shah, CEO, Pimcore Global Services (opens in new tab)

Shashin Shah is CEO of Pimcore Global Services. Pimcore is an open-source platform for product information management (PIM/MDM), digital asset management (DAM), content management system (CMS), and eCommerce. In his over 20 years of experience, both globally and in the US, he has managed large enterprise clients through strategizing, operating, consulting, and carrying out implementations worth USD 100M+ via global delivery models across several industries.