The conversation around unified commerce is happening in every sector of the retail industry. It’s not just another name for omnichannel – it’s a strategy for those who seek to completely understand shoppers’ needs and give consistent, high-value service across all touchpoints.
To compete with the ever-growing competition in the wireless retail industry, your business needs the right technological tools to put you ahead. But investing in a new software is not only risky, it’s also expensive and any business will be hesitant to make an investment if they don’t know when the benefits will kick in.
When you know an innovative system can improve processes and increase sales, be sure you can prove the positive ROI to influence the minds of key wireless decision-makers. Discover how you can build the best business case to add a new technology and see uninterrupted ROI.
- Defining Unified Commerce: Unified Commerce is more than omnichannel. Discover the differences, and see the evolution from Single-Channel to Multichannel to Omnichannel to Unified Commerce.
- Why a Unified Platform is Essential for Unified Commerce: For a Unified Commerce strategy, you can have many of different technology systems, but you need one source of truth to bring all the data points together. That comprehensive view leads to efficient resource management and more sales.
- Unified Commerce in Action in Wireless Retail: See the shoppers’ journey from both a front-of-house and back-of-house perspective. Understand why having that 360-degree view of your customers is more profitable.
Unified Commerce: Another Name for Omnichannel? Not Quite
A Unified Platform is Essential for Unified Commerce to Succeed
Unified Commerce in action in wireless retailing – Four Shopper Journeys
In a 2016 survey of executives, Boston Retail Partners said “81% of retailers plan to have unified commerce within three years.” That means now.
IHL Group, a retail tech consultancy that tracks tech investment in retail, reports that 86% of current IT spending is focused on the adoption of unified commerce.
Not long ago, the inward-looking concept known as omnichannel had retailers of all kinds “gazing at their operational navels” as they made efforts to align data and internal systems across their physical and digital storefronts. The work was hard, and a relentless focus on inventory and pricing practices too often left the shopper’s side of the equation wanting attention.
Unified commerce goes further to put customers first, by ensuring a consistent, satisfying brand and service experience across all touchpoints and any path to purchase. This is sometimes called a 360-degree view of the customer, because it enables the retailer to collate each shopper’s interactions into a coherent picture, from every vantage.
While it still depends on capable, reliable backoffice and transactional systems that have been the backbone of omnichannel retail, unified commerce looks outward too, to meld shopper interactions into an intuitive continuum of experiences that will often flow from screen to store to screen and back, sometimes with social media stops along the way.
The time is ripe for retailers to confront and master unified commerce. Your business needs these capabilities to effectively compete. Shoppers – especially your mobile-savvy smartphone owners – demand the high-quality experiences it makes possible.
Unified commerce in retail comes down to three core strategies:
- First, bring all the relevant data from your functional business areas together within a single repository.
- Second, mine that data for consumer insights and business opportunities using advanced analytics.
- Third, present the right items, offers and services to each customer at each interaction moment.
Unified Commerce: Another Name for Omnichannel? Not Quite
Omnichannel initiatives made strides toward connecting processes and data on the back end to assure better inventory and operational competencies that could support both physical and digital touchpoints. This has been especially important for wireless retailers due to the highconsideration, high-ticket, and complex nature of the sales transactions.
Unified commerce leverages this single version of the truth in both directions, to move a retail business beyond operational competency and support elevated experiences from the shoppers’ perspective.
While there are many thoughtful definitions that reflect the bi-directional nature of unified commerce, we think this one from Justin Guinn of Softwareadvice.com pretty much nails it:
Unified commerce is a business design that leverages a harmonious integration of retail processes/systems to provide full transparency of consumers on the back end and seamless customer experiences on the front end, regardless of the journey taken to make a purchase.
The central pillar of unified commerce is a blending of transitions between interactions and channels, enabling a consistently seamless customer experience.
In a unified commerce retail ecology, a purchase sequence initiated anywhere can be advanced and completed anywhere. That’s the essence from the customer’s point of view. In this context, anywhere may mean social media, e-commerce, mobile or a physical store, in any sequence or combination.
It’s about presenting a seamless face to customers across all points of contact, enabled by a seamless core technology platform behind the scenes.
It’s also about sustaining a comprehensive, continuous view of the customer, a “360-degree view” of their interactions along the consideration and purchase journey. The same systems that enable consistency of experience also collect data about those interactions which can be mined for insights and used to further perfect operations.
Retailers that adopt unified commerce may anticipate measurable benefits in several areas, including: higher conversion rates; better assortment and order management; improved customer loyalty and satisfaction scores. A few other important considerations:
Consistency of customer experience is essential. This is not just branding. When the mobile screen and website are treated not just as extensions of the storefront but as its naturally-integrated facets, shoppers can gain confidence from being recognized at each contact. They experience continuity in their shopping process even as they proceed from touchpoint to touchpoint. They benefit from the absolute consistency of information such as item details, availability, policies and prices.
Value of data accumulated will be significant. Unified commerce also presents very important and valuable “sensing” opportunities at each touchpoint which can enable a much more comprehensive view of the customer journey and how decisions are formed at each moment of truth. When every “moment of truth” is captured and available for data analytics, the resultant insights can be invaluable to drive personalization and shape your business approach.
Shopper expectations are high for wireless retail. Wireless dealers and carriers all have excellent reasons to embrace unified commerce, since all their customers are mobile-enabled. More and more customers are mobile-first in their approach to shopping and interacting with retail. Their expectations are naturally high in this sector – if your wireless shop can’t deliver on this, who can?
Mapping the Evolution from Single-Channel to Multichannel to Omnichannel to Unified Commerce
Unified commerce is the natural next stage in an innovation sequence or progression that began with “multichannel” retailing in the late 1990’s. At that time, many brick-and-mortar retailers reacted to the disruption of pure-play dot-com retailers by introducing their first stand-alone e-commerce sites. While their motives were defensive, early brick-and-click models drew praise for their efforts to leverage an existing customer base that already had a relationship with the retail brand.
Traditional retailers who adopted e-commerce channels were freighted with inertia of legacy systems that were built with only physical stores in mind. Most created online retail outlets as if they were separate stores that offered most of the same merchandise under a shared brand identity. Getting those early web stores to function dependably was a feat in itself, and integrating them tightly with brick-and-mortar operations was hardly considered.
The pitfalls of the multichannel approach were recognized almost as soon as the they were launched. Pioneers like Eddie Bauer and JCPenney quickly confronted the complexities of their experiments, as separate inventories and assortments, separate POS, separate policies, and inconsistent prices frustrated shoppers and added managerial complexity.
Store manager compensation was a pain point, as they rightly regarded online sales to be competitive with their job goals, and viewed accepting returns in-store as a punishment. The discomfort caused by these issues led to important insights about the multichannel model: Separate accounting and inventory systems created unanticipated conflicts. Solutions were needed to connect the businesses together at the back end. Policies were needed to take the frustration out of customer facing jobs that had suddenly become far more complex and technically challenging.
Chain retailers embarked on a concerted effort to address and correct the major operational and employee issues that challenged brick-and-click retailers. Inventory management was a huge focus, as retailers aspired to offer “long-tail” assortments that let them compete more effectively with pure online retailers. Buy-anywhere-return-anywhere service standards were reinforced by compensation policies that took away the sting for store employees. In-store order fulfillment (ship from store and click and carry) became areas of experimentation and investment that meant changes in store configuration and employee training.
These areas of innovation were pursued at great cost while the shopping experience often lagged behind. Legacy back-office systems were a key part of the challenge, as they were designed for operating stores and relied upon data structures that were not aligned with newer digital commerce requirements. Integration did not come easily, and the work-arounds could make life frustrating for associates.
The widespread adoption of mobile consumer technology helped stimulate a more universal viewpoint for retailers. Aligning store commerce and web commerce is necessary but not sufficient. Reimagining a retail business as a single merchandising, servicing and selling platform with multiple faces or touch points finally begins to shift the thought process. Some retailers and analysts persist in using the legacy omnichannel terminology, but unified commerce goes several steps further, to ensure that the shopper experiences the retail enterprise as a coherent whole.
A Unified Platform is Essential for Unified Commerce to Succeed
A key lesson of the omnichannel era is that patched-together point solutions cannot deliver the seamless experience that shoppers require. Retailers have exerted themselves to integrate various back-of-the-house applications, but the task grows far more challenging when those systems need to power the shopping experience across all of a customer’s preferred touchpoints and deliver on ever-rising service expectations. Critical capabilities include:
- Mobile-optimized e-commerce storefront technology
- Enterprise-class order management
- Assortment and inventory management
- Drop ship order fulfillment and warehouse management with connectivity to vendors
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Point of Sale and ways to pay
- Data analytics to drive intelligent business decisions
A purpose-built unified commerce platform is a critical step forward for organizations who are reaching the limitations of their legacy systems. Technical architecture is key. Unified commerce is not well-served by an assembly of integrated point solutions with separate data nodes. A common backbone is needed, with all applications working from a common pool of data. Sometimes this is called a “single version of the truth,” and the advantages are clear.
Unified commerce presents a consistent brand experience to customers at every touchpoint.
Compared with omnichannel, unified commerce is more outward-looking, about providing that single face to the customer every time, at every touchpoint. It supports any sequence of touchpoints on any occasion to attract, sell and keep customers engaged.
Shoppers care about interacting with one brand with one set of norms, regardless of the purchase occasion, channel of interaction or the path they took to get there. Expectations are shaped by their experiences in other retail channels, notably Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Macy’s and Home Depot, all of which have tried to engineer experiences to help shoppers find and obtain the products and product information they need.
Regardless of where they begin, the shopper sees one retail establishment that lets them research digitally for the item they want, confirm its cost and availability, and either have it shipped or held for pick-up in store. This behavior is becoming quite frequent and is sometimes called BOPIS, for “buy-online-pickup-in-store”. Chain retailers Target and Walmart are among the retailers that have re-configured pickup areas within their stores to accommodate this process smoothly.
When visiting the store, the shopper can access in-store touchscreens or their personal mobile devices to access detailed product information (including competitive prices) and other items in the assortment that may not be on your shelves but are available for order. Retailers who once fretted about “showrooming” behavior siphoning transactions away have learned to embrace and encourage these shopper visits as opportunities to engage.
The inverse of this interaction, known as “web-rooming” happens when a shopper researches a high-consideration product on several retailers’ sites – or even the product search engine of first resort, Amazon.com – then visits your store to obtain it rapidly. Mobile dealers will want to be prepared with definitive item availability data so that these sales opportunities can be converted.
Unified Commerce in action in wireless retailing – Four Shopper Journeys
In a unified commerce retail enterprise, every customer journey may be described from two perspectives: the seamless customer experience across any sequence of touchpoints and the 360-degree customer view enabled by a single back end data system with advanced analytics.
For wireless dealers and carriers, it makes sense to think in terms of front-of-the-house strategies and back-of-the-house data, analytics and insights. While the individual journeys may vary widely, some paths are more predictable. We present here a few “vignettes” or use cases that illustrate how a superb unified customer experience is enabled by a superb back-end system.
Shopper Journey #1: The Store Order Journey
Travis, a “power user” shopper, stops in at a corporate store to look over the latest tablet that got great reviews on his favorite tech site. After spending some hands-on time with the device and discussing it with the associate, he decides he wants three high-powered options – a fashion color, a matching keyboard cover, and extra RAM. The store doesn’t have the top-of-the line device in his color, so he elects to complete the transaction virtually to get all three. Using an in-store touchscreen, they order the tablet and cover and confirm that the package can be drop shipped to his office from the fulfillment center overnight. They close the deal and Travis leaves happy, confident that he’ll receive his device in time for him to take it along on his business trip.
What happens in the back of the house: The items are located and a special order is placed. The payment transaction happens directly in the POS just as it normally would and the associate gets credit for the sale. Because of connectivity to the central fulfillment center with centralized inventory, the best source of the items is determined. This may be either directly from a company warehouse or direct from the vendor or manufacturer. Logic is applied to determine primary locations or vendors over secondary locations automatically.
Shopper Journey #2: The Enhanced Bopis Journey
Jan researches a new smartphone purchase on the carrier website and completes the online purchase to take advantage of an introductory promotion. But she’s nervous about transferring her service to the new device and wants some hands-on assistance. She selects the option to have the device delivered to an affiliate dealer location so she can get expert help setting up the device. When the item arrives at the store the following day, she receives an automated SMS message with a link to set an appointment with an associate. Jan comes into the store where the associate greets her and is prepared to help her transfer her data to the new device and discusses recommended add-ons. Together they access a touchscreen self-assist device to order a suitable case.
What happens in the back of the house: The carrier website pulls all aggregate inventory information from corporate and indirect locations. This lets Jan pick the location that is most convenient for her. The appointment she schedules automatically shows up in the sales associate calendar and the associate is able to view all of the customer information. When the customer arrives, her item is already setup and ready to go. The associate is able to simply walk her through how to use it and answer any questions she may have. The associate gets credit for the data transfer assistance and sale. The associate views suggested add-ons during the interaction and makes additional sales.
Shopper Journey #3: The Social Media Journey
Kelly sees an attractive reference to a phone case while scanning through her Pinterest favorites. She looks for reviews on Facebook and finds a link to a nearby store that carries the line. She sends a Facebook message and stops in after work to check out the item. The store associate is prepared for her visit, but learns they only have another color on hand. Working together, they locate the desired case on the “endless aisle” touchscreen, and also find a set of premium earbuds in-stock. Randa makes the payment for both on one invoice. The case is drop shipped to her home. Kelly later receives a personalized survey about her experience.
What happens in the back of the house: Store level merchandise assortment data is tracked and available to the shopper when they check online. When she comes in-store there is endless aisle availability via touchscreen. The transaction is completed on one invoice by having a shipping integration and inventory integration directly into the POS. The store system data insights note that the desired color is more popular than the one on hand and initiates an order directly from the vendor.
Shopper Journey #4: The Personalization Journey
Megan purchases an e-reader from Amazon.com. When it arrives and she opens the box; her e-reader welcomes her personally: “Welcome to your new e-reader, Megan.” Everything is set up to her Amazon account. Alternatively, when Megan upgraded her iPhone to the latest model, the website suggested Kate Spade fashion accessories based on her previous purchases. The system knew she liked black and white styles and would likely splurge on the high-end screen protector. When her new phone arrived, the experience was similar to the e-reader. What historically had been a complicated setup was pre-configured. It took Megan less than 5 minutes to get her new phone going and every preference from her old iPhone was already set up.
What happens in the back of the house: The customer information is pushed to the back end system. This could take place either through Amazon’s back end personalization system or the carrier’s billing system. While this may seem ambitious, it reflects the reality of what’s expected by today’s consumers based on their experiences in other retail channels.