As the number of touchpoints between merchants and consumers grows, ensuring a consistent retail experience becomes increasingly challenging. To overcome this challenge, merchants are taking a new approach to retail by unifying their operations across all channels.
In this article, we introduce you to an emerging trend in global retail – unified commerce. After reading, you’ll understand what it is, how to do it right, and why to adopt it.
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Merchants are now adopting omnichannel strategies to meet rising consumer expectations. But an omnichannel approach adds to the complexity of running a business.
Let’s explore how unified commerce can help you overcome this challenge and give your customers the convenience they demand.
Unified commerce is an eCommerce strategy that unites business data such as customer and product information present across channels into a single platform through integrations. The primary objective of adopting a unified commerce approach is to simplify business management and meet customer expectations.
So, no matter which channel your customers choose or how they engage with your business, you can provide a frictionless shopping experience. Retailers often confuse omnichannel and unified commerce. However, there’s a clear distinction between them.
Omnichannel refers to an approach where business systems and touchpoints communicate with a single backend platform. On the other hand, unified commerce goes a step further and allows all systems and touchpoints to communicate with each other in real-time.
The beauty of unified commerce is that it’s unique to each business. There’s no single way to do it. However, the key to achieving success with a unified approach is consistency. You can only reap the rewards of unified commerce when all aspects of your business, such as inventory, sales, commerce, marketing, and accounting, can communicate with each other.
Every retailer looking to adopt a unified commerce strategy must ensure consistency across the following areas:
Your business systems are the foundation of the entire operation. A unified approach requires all systems to communicate with each other via a centralized platform. Therefore, choosing the right systems is crucial to its success.
With the appropriate systems in place, you’ll have the ability to scale on-demand and adapt to changing needs rapidly. And that’s not all. You’ll be able to do this while reducing the time and money required to manage isolated systems or providers.
Besides systems, your business channels are also crucial to implementing a unified approach. When customers begin their buying journey on one channel, they should be able to complete it on a different channel seamlessly.
For example, if a customer shops at your brick-and-mortar store and wants to return a product, they should be able to do it online through your website. Similarly, you should ensure promotions are consistent across all channels.
If customers want to buy from your brand, they shouldn’t have to check its Facebook page, online store, and Amazon for discounts. Instead, you should ensure all promotions are consistent, so they won’t have to jump across channels.
One of the biggest challenges of an omnichannel strategy is the inconsistent product information between channels. Whether online or offline, to ensure a seamless shopping experience, everything from the product sizing to stock and pricing must remain consistent.
An inventory management tool is only one part of the puzzle. The other is a well-integrated ERP system that delivers real-time data consistency between channels. So, when your customer walks into your store, they should have access to the same stock as they do online.
For example, when global apparel brand Forever New wanted to unify their business systems to support their unique order management needs, they turned to Magento for its advanced commerce capabilities and ability to support robust integrations.
With Magento, they were able to unify their operations across more than 200 physical stores. Moreover, they cut warehouse dispatch times by half and even reduced abandoned carts by 20% by ensuring consistency across their global inventory.
When you ensure consistency in customer interactions, you’re likely to see an instant improvement in customer satisfaction and a drop in churn. Something as simple as not having to re-enter payment details individually on every channel can make the checkout experience frictionless and reduce cart abandonment.
To provide better customer interactions, you need to ensure consistency across your system, channels, and products. Doing so will help your business identify and cater to customers across its touchpoints effortlessly.
Six reasons why you should opt for a unified approach
Unified commerce helps you monitor and control your entire business operation from a single channel. More importantly, it gives your customers a consistent shopping experience.
Unifying your business systems improves operational efficiency. With a unified platform, it’s easier to onboard new staff because they won’t have to spend weeks learning multiple systems, interfaces, and procedures. Instead, they can hit the ground running in a matter of days.
As a result, you’ll spend less time training staff and tackling user errors. Instead, you’ll have more time to focus on other things. With automated inventory, real-time order status updates, and simplified customer management, you might even be able to go on that long-overdue vacation you’ve been putting off for so long.
Inconsistent stock is a significant pain point for customers and merchants alike. A study by the IHL Group found that retailers globally are losing out on over $1 trillion in sales each year due to stock issues.
But here’s the good news. With unified commerce, you can forget about out-of-stock products. It’s easier to manage and predict stock replenishments with all your sales channels and inventory systems integrated. You can monitor inventory levels in real-time and plan reorders in advance.
A unified platform allows you to offer your customers more convenience. They can choose to shop across any of your business channels without compromising their buying experience.
For instance, when a customer orders online, they’ll be able to opt for an in-store pickup and even complete their payment in person at the time of pickup. They’ll also be able to monitor their order status in real-time as it goes from being placed, processed, and packed. Once it’s ready, they’ll be notified automatically to drive down to your store and pick it up.
B2C buyer journeys are complex. Often, they span across multiple channels before resulting in a purchase. A customer might land on your social media profile before navigating to your website. On your website, they might reach out to your customer service for a quick chat before they actually drive down to your store to complete their purchase.
Unifying data across your business will make it easier for you to monitor customer interactions and find opportunities for improvement. You’ll be able to identify your best channels for leads, engagements, and the ones that result in the most conversions.
With easy access to all your business data, you can design intricate purchase flows that guide buyers through a well-integrated buying journey across all your channels.
A 2018 survey by Google found that 61% of consumers expect brands to tailor experiences to match their preferences. And that’s where unified systems shine. They make it possible for you to tailor your shopping experience to your customers’ preferences.
With a consolidated view of every data point and customer interaction, they help you offer a shopping experience tailored to suit individual customer needs. You can provide intelligent product recommendations based on past purchases and even predict future shopping needs across different channels.
With your online and offline channels integrated, you’ll be able to make it easier to buy from your business. This means that when customers place an order online, they’ll have the flexibility to choose if they wish to pick it up offline. Similarly, when they want to return a product, they’ll be able to walk into your store and drop it off.
When you give your customers the ability to choose when, where, and how they engage with your business, they’ll reward you with loyalty and repeat business. A 2018 report by Narvar found that 96% of customers surveyed indicated that they would purchase again from a brand that offers a good returns experience. All you have to do is simplify shopping with your business by adopting a unified approach.
Most businesses rely on multiple technologies and services for their day-to-day operations. So, the shift to unified commerce won’t happen overnight. With a powerful eCommerce platform like Magento and the help of a reliable development partner, you’ll be able to change your business strategy gradually without disruptions.
With all your systems operating in harmony, you won’t have to worry about stock issues or product information inconsistencies. You’ll be able to lean back and watch your business grow with the help of a fully integrated system.
Guest author: Jan Guardian is the Chief Business Development Officer at Staylime, a Magento design, and development company headquartered in Redwood City, California. He is a Member of the Magento Association and an Adobe Sales Accredited Magento Commerce professional. He is passionate about eCommerce and Magento in particular — throughout the years his articles have been featured on Retail Dive, Hacker Noon, Chief Marketer, Mobile Marketer, TMCnet, and many others.