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Unified Commerce: The Next Generation in Retail

by Nortal Cloud team, March 30, 2020

In the customer experience age, almost every retail company has a digital commerce strategy that extends their storefront into an eCommerce experience. Yet, there may be such a thing as having too many siloed channels leading to a confusing customer journey.

Omnichannel was a progression from retail operations to eCommerce, and it’s now time to take it to the next level with unified commerce. Unified commerce is all about the customer experience. Every selling channel works together to create a “unified” shopping experience and buyer’s journey.

When you think of all the platforms, apps, and systems a retailer must rely on to provide a smooth experience to customers, you may think of components such as: CRM, fulfillment systems, social commerce, point of sale systems, ERP systems, supply chain, and more. These new channels are added so often, that the omnichannel approach manifested with the aim to combine the various back-end functionalities, while linking data and analytics.

Many retailers took a bumpy approach to omnichannel by trying to patch siloes. This solution may have worked temporarily but it was not a viable long-term strategy nor did it effectively address a user-friendly customer experience throughout every channel.

With customer expectations of brands at an all-time high, it’s time to optimize with unified commerce. The customer wants a single source of truth, and unified commerce provides the solution.

How does unified commerce work?

Unified commerce offers a connected shopping experience on one commerce platform. As a result, your customers can interact with your brand at any time and however they want.

To convey a complete unified commerce experience, you would need a mobile app, an in-person experience, and an eCommerce website. These three channels must connect seamlessly, while keeping pricing both consistent and transparent.

For example, a customer may walk into a brick-and-mortar store to see the products, then go home and make their purchase online. What they don’t want to see is two different prices for the same items or be disappointed by the quality of the product before they make their final decision.

Unified commerce vs. omnichannel 

Invariably, there may be some confusion between unified commerce and omnichannel, some think they are one in the same. Unified commerce is one step beyond omnichannel. Nonetheless, unified commerce is a progression of the omnichannel experience. With omnichannel, retailers were using siloed platforms to connect with their customers.

In contrast, unified commerce takes all these disconnected platforms, and brings them together into one platform. Through just one tool, you get inventory management, CRM, mobile commerce, e-commerce, supply chain, social commerce, and more.

Why adopt a unified commerce strategy?

The path to purchase is much more complex than ever before. Simply put, a unified commerce platform is better equipped to handle your customer’s shopping behaviors and preferences.

For example, shoppers are finding what they need on a mobile device, then going to their desktop to complete the purchase online and returning it in the physical store. This example is just one of the many buying journeys that happens today.

The modern market is consumer-driven. Therefore, unified commerce is designed to handle the needs and preferences of contemporary shoppers. The customer journey is sort of a zig-zag through various channels and to remain competitive, you must meet your customer’s preferences at every single point of their journey. Before unified commerce, it was difficult for retailers to manage all the transactions via siloed platforms. Think clunky patchwork with a set of disparate systems.

For enterprises, accurate data is essential for improved decision-making and consumer insight.

Disconnected systems cannot communicate with one another, enterprises had no other choice but to make their decisions based on data that was incomplete. Not to mention, this made it much more difficult to truly understand their target audience and to provide the right customer experience. In contrast, unified commerce does away with the complexity of disparate platforms and provides connected data. For enterprises, they can use unified commerce to connect all their stock and ensure their customers get what they want, when they want it.

What are the challenges of transitioning to unified commerce?

As consumer buying habits have evolved, it has become clear that companies need to evolve to provide a cohesive buyer’s journey that eliminates any friction in check out completion.

Many still struggle with figuring out how to transform their current operations to unified commerce and become more agile at the same time. How does a retailer, used to legacy systems, reinvent their wheel? How can you change your in-store experience to provide a better customer experience? These are some of the challenges retailers face when considering the transition to unified commerce.

There are many companies implementing unified commerce successfully such as Walmart Grocery, Peapod, T-Mobile, and more. Customers can shop online or in-store, and get their items delivered to their door – all thanks to unifying commerce.

Some retailers even drive growth by offering lower prices for items if customers are willing to pick them up in store. These items tend to have minimal profit if delivered to the customer’s doorstep. Not only can you optimize in-store carts, but you can do the same for online carts as well.

It’s time to make the switch 

When making the switch from omnichannel to unified commerce, you have to think of your strategy. To start, utilizing a microservices based architecture has been a proven method and used by companies such as eBay, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook.What makes a microservices architecture so beneficial is it is designed to enhance business capabilities, speed, and productivity. Moreover, it is scalable and gives retailers the flexibility.

The traditional approach to building applications has often been in the form of the monolithic architecture which consists of a database, a client-side user interface, and a server-side application. Further, if developers want to make an alteration, they have to update the entire code base at once. Also, if you want to add any new technologies to the monolithic architecture, you need to rewrite the entire application which makes scaling up both difficult and complex.

On the other hand, microservices offer simplicity, making the transition easier and quicker. All the services can be deployed, updated, and scaled independently. Once you have a unified commerce platform, then you can use it to link online and offline marketing to keep your customers engaged.

For example, if a customer abandons their shopping cart, you might set this up as a trigger alert to send an SMS message or email to encourage the completion of their purchases. Unifying commerce makes it easier for retailers to engage their shoppers through every point of their journey while offering multiple options for fulfillment.

Enabling your customers 

Shopping on the go has become a norm for smartphone-enabled consumers and it’s imperative to make the mobile shopping experience seamless. The modern customer prefers a simple and  efficient shopping experience, and if your company doesn’t offer that then they will take their business elsewhere.

As many retailers offer a greater variety of products delivered quickly, the key to success is offering the right mix of products, on the right channel, and at the right price and speed of delivery. Silos no longer work effectively for this model.

Instead, unifying commerce provides customers with access to a full-service and intelligent, customer-first shopping experience. In a rapidly-changing world, it’s crucial not to fall behind. Even as your brand scales globally, you never have to miss a sale.

With a microservices infrastructure in place, you can create a unified shopping experience from social media, kiosks, and physical stores – or from anywhere. Are you ready to learn more? Use intelligent analytics to uncover smart insights around customer profiles and unifying commerce that connects a customer’s website profile to their social media accounts, rewards’ card profile, customer website profiles, and more. Contact Nortal to get started on creating your unified commerce strategy today.

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