Today’s customers have tremendous flexibility in ways to shop. They can purchase online from anywhere using several devices – laptops, smartphones, tablets, and even by voice with intelligent personal assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. They can also use several delivery options like Buy Online Pick-up in Store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, ship-to-store. Customers also expect a consistent experience in all purchase, delivery channels, and other customer touchpoints throughout their shopping journey.
Unified Commerce means that regardless of the customer's journey, or touchpoints they have made to make a purchase, their customer experience should remain the same - frictionless.
This can be achieved when all aspects (inventory, sales, eCommerce, fulfillment, etc.) of the retail business have visibility into one another. With enhanced consistency and continuity, the customer can be seamlessly guided through their purchase journey.
Retailers have to keep up with ever-changing customer expectations, maintaining customer loyalty. Customers expect a seamless buying experience. To attract customer loyalty, retailers need an experience that stands out.
So many technologies exist to drive marketing and sales, operations, and customer experience, but they don’t seem to work together.
Retailers can create buyer experiences that can combat the fickle nature of the modern consumer only by:
Retailers need to modernize their customer experience and operational efficiency to meet the demand of modern retail.
Customers expect a seamless, frictionless shopping experience that could span multiple channels and devices. For example, they may research purchases on their smartphone, then finalize the transaction in the brick & mortar store.
Capturing detailed behavioral and transactional information of customers provides a key competitive advantage, regardless of the channel(s) they choose. Retailers armed with this information can use it to create personalized online interactions.
In-store sales associates can intelligently cross-sell and upsell if they have access to customer's purchase history via in-store apps, that include things like item, size, and color preferences. Called Clienteling, these apps provide rich information, allowing sales associates to create personalized recommendations and seamless digital checkouts. In other words, this 360° customer view enables retailers to ensure continuity and consistency throughout each retail touchpoint.
Commerce platforms come in a variety of flavors, offering different functional capabilities. They can be cloud-based, on-premise software, or home-grown systems. From a functional point of view, most commerce platforms provide an online store but differ in backend functional capabilities, such as content, inventory, Product Information Management (PIM), Order Management (OMS), and Point of Sale (POS) integrations. Many rely on integrations with other third-party or home-grown systems to complete the omnichannel shopping experience. But these systems don’t necessarily communicate well with each other. This creates a fractured environment – of both systems and data – that cannot deliver the 360° customer view required to provide a seamless, frictionless omnichannel shopping experience.
An ideal shopping experience requires every system involved in attracting, acquiring, converting, and retaining customers to leverage the same data source – a single source of truth.
Each system in the retail environment typically has its own database, thereby creating “islands of information.” In today’s omnichannel retail environment, there are many systems – Content Management (CMS), PIM, Order Management, Warehouse Management (WMS), and Customer Service, to name just a few. Behavioral and transactional data from all retail systems across the enterprise must be aggregated and transformed to provide actionable information throughout the customer journey. Site metrics are usually captured in tools like Google Analytics, but this information is not made available for other business units to make informed decisions.
Individual business units initiate ad-hoc actions and sometimes forget to consider all the downstream effects on other departments and, ultimately, the customer. For example, a product recall requires merchandisers to remove the product from store shelves, commerce sites, marketplaces, and other retail partner locations. The merchandising department, focused on the recall, may forget to inform other areas of the business, such as marketing and customer service.
At best, this could be a minor oversight. At worst, marketing could have launched a campaign promoting this unavailable product, leading to a surge in customer service inquiries. Customer service, unaware of the recall, finds itself unprepared for the increase in call center volume due to recall returns and promotions of a no-longer-available product. This type of situation negatively impacts the customer experience.
Each department typically has its own set of metrics and reporting to gauge performance to KPIs. The systems supporting these departments each produce their own reports. Often, these reports are inconsistent with one another due to differences in update processes and the data attributes used to create the reports.
In the words of Ken Morris, partner and co-founder of consulting firm Boston Retail Partners, “In omnichannel, you have multiple channels, but you don’t have one piece of software, one version of the truth: you have many versions of the truth. In the unified commerce world, it’s all connected in real-time. That’s why this unified commerce experience will be the way people go in the future.”
A recent BRP survey revealed that 85% of retailers see creating a true unified commerce environment as their top priority.
Unified commerce focuses on the customer experience. It unites all the omnichannel elements – such as commerce, mobile commerce, order management (OMS), inventory management, customer relationship management (CRM), Point of Sale, Customer Service, etc. – into a single platform. In doing so, unified commerce breaks down operational and informational silos to create a unified, consistent customer experience. It also delivers a true 360° view of the customer. A survey conducted by Boston Retail Partners revealed that 81% of retailers plan to have a unified commerce platform by 2020.
Unified commerce goes beyond omnichannel, putting the customer experience first, breaking down the walls between internal channel silos, and leveraging a common commerce platform.
Regardless of business model, unified commerce enables a delightful customer experience with benefits to both the retailer and customer, including:
Unified commerce helps increase sales by creating a highly personalized, “white glove” experience. Including an intelligent personalization engine, search improvement tools, and an AI/ML driven recommendation system helps you provide personalized customer experiences. This platform helps new customers easily find the items they seek and offers a seamless path to purchase. This capability can increase conversions and likely result in repeat purchases. The ability to understand purchase history and purchase propensity gives marketers the ability to cross-sell and upsell with highly relevant offers.
Insights into customer preferences result in better merchandising. Merchants will have the ability to personalize offers, search returns, and collection pages.
Accurate and actionable information extracted from the central database enables improved forecasting and demand planning. Merchandisers and buyers will now have visibility across the omnichannel environment to see the real-time sales volume and inventory levels.
Unified commerce streamlines operations across the omnichannel environment. By delivering an infrastructure where all systems communicate with one another and leverage a “single source of the truth,” it enables retailers to automate workflows and processes. These include processes that enhance the customer experience such as order fulfillment from warehouses and stores or simplified returns management.
Building a unified commerce strategy won’t happen overnight. With a multitude of moving parts, retailers setting off on the unified commerce journey should have a big picture of the end game.
As Gartner puts it: this end game goal is to achieve the successful unification of customer-facing processes and dramatically improve customer experiences.
Review how much of your current technology already speak to one another. Before investing in any new platform, you’ll need to investigate the potential impact on your other operational areas and discover the silos.
Audit your current customer experience journey and ideate improvements. Don’t dive into unifying experiences across your business without understanding what each of those experiences are. Take time to think critically about what their optimal design would be to eliminate experience gaps. Use customer's purchase journeys and personas to personalize offers and recommendations across the lifecycle.
Start taking data seriously. Data integrity is crucial to the success of unified commerce. Get real-time data on how customers purchase, view, and engage with the commerce system.
Ensure you have the necessary technological foundation.
ARC by RETISIO Inc. is next-generation reactive commerce, cloud-native platform for modern retailers developed using a microservices based architecture. Designed using domain-driven design principles, ARC is fully extensible and provides business agility along with savings in terms of development efficiency and infrastructure reduction.
ARC is a platform for retailers whose applications require the highest forms of resilience, speed, and scalability for offline/online scenarios. Built using headless, API-first, and cloud-native architecture, ARC takes advantage of the underlying platform’s ability to optimize resource consumption, scale dynamically, and recover quickly if any portion of the system goes down.
ARC delivers personalized experiences across the customer journey using merchandising, search, and content management tools, with intelligent search capabilities and proven AI/ML based recommendations engine.
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