Unified Commerce: Taking eCommerce To The Next Level
Back in 2018, a survey revealed that a massive 81% of American retailers planned to have unified commerce solutions in place by 2020. Whether the Covid-19 pandemic delayed or sped up this process is yet to be determined. But one thing’s for sure – more businesses are implementing unified commerce than ever before. And more shoppers are demanding it too.
In Hong Kong, 79% said they want unified cross-channel experiences. While in Australia, 74% want businesses to maintain the high levels of flexibility they’ve shown by selling products across multiple channels during the pandemic.
Shopper expectations are higher than ever and brands that embrace a unified approach to eCommerce will prosper.
What does unified commerce mean?
Unified commerce syncs all of your sales channels to create a seamless customer experience. It goes beyond omnichannel commerce as it involves connecting all of your backend systems, as well as your public-facing channels.
Everything from inventory management to customer communications is brought together in a single central platform. This makes your business easier to manage. Brands also gain oversight of customer behaviour, sales and stock levels across all locations and platforms. This includes your website, app and social commerce channels, as well as third-party marketplaces and brick-and-mortar stores.
As a result, customers can enjoy all the benefits that come with this streamlined system. Think improved fulfillment, highly relevant messaging, improved customer service and consistency across sales channels.
The key pillars of unified commerce
To take advantage of unified commerce, retail brands need to implement three key things.
1. A centralised system
Unified commerce brings every aspect of your retail business under one single system. Rather than relying on a variety of internal channels, unified commerce solutions amalgamate them.
There’s one real-time inventory system to track stock levels across physical stores, D2C websites, marketplaces and warehouses. There should be one CRM for all incoming customer queries and a consolidated payments system too. All this means there’s also a central point for data collection.
As a result, unified commerce provides you with a complete overview of customer behaviour and needs. This then empowers you to make better business decisions that should impact your brand’s bottom line.
2. Channels and communication
With a centralised system in place, brands have more power to implement influential changes across their marketing and sales channels.
In 2021, the consumer journey is much more complex than it used to be. Shoppers don’t follow a linear path to conversion. Instead, they’re more likely to connect with your brand across several channels before making a purchase.
If you have a segmented backend system, the data you track often won’t be complete. But, with unified commerce, you’ll be able to see how your online loyalty programme impacts in-store sales. Or how in-store promotions affect online traffic within a certain region.
With unified commerce, you can better understand your customers. This, in turn, allows you to create a better experience across channels. You can also push out relevant messaging which will nurture, rather than annoy, them.
For brands with a bricks and clicks business model, unified commerce usually leads to better point of sale capabilities as well. For example, sales assistants can quickly and easily organize deliveries, returns or check online stock.
3. An integrated inventory system
A centralised inventory system can bring all sorts of knock-on benefits to shoppers.
Online, customers should be able to see reliable stock information and pricing across all sales channels. While support staff should be able to do the same with just a couple of clicks.
The oversight provided should also prevent online stockouts, especially when the storeroom of a brick-and-mortar location is full.
An integrated inventory system can also facilitate flexible customer returns. If someone buys an item online, for example, they should be able to return it in-store. It also allows brands to offer swift and reliable BOPIS arrangements.
Unified commerce vs omnichannel commerce
While unified commerce solutions and omnichannel solutions are inextricably linked, they involve different setups and bring about different benefits.
An omnichannel approach involves integration across every customer-facing platform. It’s about letting customers know where they can make a purchase. This allows them to choose their preferred channel – whether it’s a D2C store, a third-party retailer or a marketplace like Amazon.
However, behind the scenes, there’s multiple internal platforms of operation. So the likes of customer service, order tracking and inventory information often remain separate for each sales channel.
Unified commerce, on the other hand, integrates everything in the backend too. From payment systems through to inventory software and customer service desks.
For brands, this provides oversight across all channels and customer actions. For customers, this creates a seamless and flexible experience. Simply put, unified commerce solutions take omnichannel commerce to the next level.
Why is unified commerce beneficial for online retail brands?
Unified commerce enables you to give your customers the best experience possible. As a result, this improves customer engagement, brand competitiveness and brings other great benefits as well.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. It increases sales
It also tends to increase customer loyalty, which is probably thanks to the increased convenience and service offered by brands.
2. It has the potential to reduce costs
Centralising all your backend systems can reduce costs for your business in a number of ways.
Firstly, consolidating your systems may reduce costs in terms of subscriptions and maintenance. It can also reduce the time staff spend on tasks like accounting, ordering, reconciliation, order fulfillment and answering customer queries.
With one central system, your business can also gain greater purchase power. You can order packing supplies and other products in bulk for all your warehouses and locations. You’ll also be able to negotiate one contract for the likes of payment processing, courier services and more.
3. It provides one source of truth
With one centralised information source, unified commerce provides clarity on customer behaviour, sales metrics, stock levels and much more.
This makes it easier for brands to identify any issues that may pop up. They can also monitor the impact of new strategies across all areas of their business, from marketing campaigns through to changes in safety stock volumes.
4. It enhances the consumer journey
Unified commerce solutions are all about creating a frictionless customer experience. And, in modern retail, this is a key differentiator for brands. Customers benefit from greater flexibility, convenience and service, while businesses get more sales.
According to Forbes, this has been proven time and again. One study suggests that customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable, while other research shows that 84% of brands investing in customer experience report increased profits.
Unified commerce solutions aim to reduce friction between your sales channels and backend systems. As a result, brands gain internal efficiency, as well as increased customer satisfaction, sales and loyalty.
While it will take significant preparation and time to integrate your backend channels, it will be well worth the effort. Once you have achieved omnicommerce success, your brand should look toward unified commerce next.
Interested in discovering how your business can provide a better customer experience and drive more conversions? Talk to our team today!