Modernizing in-store experience with unified commerce

May 07, 2024
Author: Justin Rice
Blog | Industry

Challenges in the retail sector

The retail industry has radically transformed in recent years. Consumer behavior has evolved, and retailers must meet heightened expectations from customers and employees. Customers want omnichannel experiences that treat a retail organization like a monolith.

For example, customers want to be able to buy, return, or get support at the channel of their choosing or across multiple channels and maintain a seamless experience. And employees crave the technological capacity to keep up with omnichannel services while building relationships and streamlining the customer journey.

Until recently, delivering a seamless experience to customers across channels has been a kind of magic trick, with disparate, siloed technology creating duplicate or mismatched records on the backend. At the same time, retailers struggle to keep CX seamless.

Additionally, customers want unprecedented levels of personalization–they want retailers to know their preferences and offer recommendations based on purchase history. Emerging technology, including AI, AR, VR, and location-based marketing, create even more channels to manage and keep compliant with evolving privacy laws.

To deal with these challenges, a new approach has evolved from omnichannel sales–unified commerce. This post will review the nuances of unified commerce and what retailers can expect from implementation.

Understanding unified commerce

If omnichannel is about delivering a seamless customer experience, unified commerce aims to give retailers the same experience on the backend. This process involves uniting customer-facing channels–web chat, social media messaging, voice, text messaging, etc.–with retailer backend systems like CRM, inventory management, shipping, BOPIS, and payments.

In other words:

Omnichannel is a cross-channel approach to sales, marketing, and fulfillment.
Unified commerce unites the backend communication necessary for omnichannel into a single platform.

Omnichannel tools may not be fully integrated, meaning valuable time is lost reconciling between multiple databases. On the other hand, unified commerce creates a single source of truth that both customers and employees can rely on.

Benefits of unified commerce

Essentially, the goals between the two systems are the same–to deliver seamless shopping experiences and personalized interactions. Both approaches prioritize the customer. However, unified commerce provides additional benefits over the omnichannel strategy, including:

  • Enhanced CX: Refine omnichannel experiences and remove friction to allow customers to interact with your business in the channel of their choice.
  • Analytics and insights: Keeping customer data in one place boosts visibility and analysis of the customer journey, enabling greater personalization, and increasing a customer’s long-term value (LTV) by fostering better brand loyalty and evangelism.
  • Better operational efficiency: By eliminating reconciliation between multiple systems (for example, store inventory listed online and in an app versus what is on the shelves), retailers also eliminate the associated headaches (mistakes, duplicate records, etc.). Retailers can respond to customers faster, process payments worldwide on the same system, and access sales history to resolve support issues.
Also read: Top ten benefits of integrating your cloud-based contact center with UCaaS

Challenges in implementing unified commerce

While unified commerce has undeniable benefits and is almost certainly a part of the future of retail, there are significant challenges to implementation, including:

  • Legacy technology: Many retailers struggle with vendor lock and rely on legacy systems for vital operations. Updating legacy technology without losing critical customer data is a substantial barrier, especially for smaller retailers. Modern retail tools need highly available local networks; that means 5G networking, which is incompatible with many legacy systems.
  • Siloed systems: The race to offer omnichannel tools led to tool sprawl–numerous apps or systems in place to address specific use cases, but without a proper method of integrating data between solutions. Unified commerce can mean overhauling these systems or migrating to an entirely new environment.
  • Compliance: As customer demand pushes the boundaries of technology, government regulators and other watchdog groups push back. Retailers must stay compliant while offering new technology solutions for their customers, or they could risk serious consequences such as fines.

Implementation strategies

Despite the shared goals with omnichannel sales, unified commerce is an entirely new approach to retail technology. It can require a substantial investment in your underlying IT infrastructure. It is best to begin with an audit of your organization’s current systems. Begin asking questions like:

  • What systems are already integrated and working well?
  • Where are the gaps?
  • How will our organization train employees on new systems?
  • What are the security and regulatory concerns?
  • How can you ensure customer data is kept secure and private?

By taking stock of your current environment, you can prioritize digital transformation and earmark which systems make the most sense to migrate to unified commerce first.

In addition to a technology audit, mapping out the customer journey is vital in empowering your employees to deliver exceptional service.

  • Where and how do your customers usually make purchases and returns?
  • Where are the friction points?
  • What can your team streamline to improve CX?
Read more: Secure enablement of app driven retail stores

Future of in-store experience

As emerging technology continues to change how we shop, managing multiple data sources will become more and more critical. AI will undoubtedly impact retail in new and not yet fully understood ways. IoT devices will become crucial for tracking inventory and interacting with customers. Thanks to location-based marketing, customers will receive promotions and alerts based on their proximity to products and buying history.

Customers will continue to demand shopping experiences tailored to them. For example, a recent study found that 61% of sales begin online and end in-store. Retailers lacking the underlying IT technology and a unified platform to support these innovations will be left behind.

By partnering with a seasoned technology service provider, retailers can transfer the heavy lifting from their overstretched IT departments to a reliable ally. With years of expertise in integrating technology across all facets of retail, from communications to inventory management, CBTS stands ready. Our specialists keep eyes on evolving industry trends and assist in interpreting their significance for you.

Get in touch to talk to one of our experts today.

To learn about other technology movements in retail, read the e-book How Cloud Computing is Revolutionizing Retail.

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