Currently in the retail sector it’s all about omnichannel vs. unified commerce. But which one is the best for you?
As the market becomes a more competitive place, and the added pressures of a devalued pound and falling footfall make themselves apparent, it is essential that retailers investigate the benefits of both omnichannel and unified commerce.
With 89% of businesses expecting to be competing based solely on customer experience soon, the question of whether to use omnichannel or unified commerce is a crucial one for retailers seeking to acquire an advantage in a crowded market.
Defining omnichannel and unified commerce
A quick look online will throw up a diverse range of definitions for omnichannel and unified commerce. However, the most eloquent comes from Ken Morris, the co-founder of Boston Retail Partners.
Morris describes omnichannel as “multiple channels” where you “don’t have one piece of software” but “many versions of the truth”. Alternatively, unified commerce is a world where all channels, mobile, website and physical stores, are “connected in real time”.
So, in practice, omnichannel links together various digital and physicals channels, making a digitally-enabled store a point of sale, a showroom, and a click & collect point all in one. The essential part of omnichannel is making sure that the experience offered to customers is both seamless and unified.
But what is unified commerce? It’s where everything is connected in real time, breaking down the walls of omnichannel and putting customer experience at the forefront. Like the cloud, everything is in one place, giving the customer real-time insight into product availability across all channels, highly specific marketing efforts and customer-based pricing.
The most important factor in unified commerce, according to Morris, is the middleware layer, which he describes as “a piece of software that connects the dots”. And with the 2014 Supply Chain Benchmark Survey finding that 93% of retailers intend to adopt a unified commerce model, it’s worth thinking carefully about what the different types of middleware will offer your business.
Which one is right for my business?
So, which approach is the best one to take in the ever-changing world of retail? Omnichannel or unified commerce?
Omnichannel focuses on creating a seamless and consistent customer experience across all sales channels. Yet retailers often have separate, stand-alone systems for each sales channel that can lead to data being segregated in specific data silos. This means that certain data can become inaccessible within an omnichannel system.
This is where unified commerce steals the show. The “single truth” of unified commerce shines through, sharing the data across the whole system and making it accessible to both customer and retailer at anytime – wherever, whenever.
Unified commerce puts the customer at the epicentre of the shopping experience. They can buy online, return in any store and can be consistently updated with product descriptions and changes across all channels. For retailers, it’s not easy to achieve. Sharing real-time data across all sections of your business requires the correct digital infrastructure and the right business plan. But in a game where the customer is king; pleasing them should be on top of every retailers list.
What are the benefits of unified commerce?
Unified commerce can help solve many of the challenges that modern retailers are facing today. For example, sharing data across all sections of your business means that you can optimise your inventory by knowing what stock is needed for each channel, making the automation of buy-anywhere capabilities a lot easier.
Being able to see which customer is buying what will do wonders for customer retention. Being able to recognise loyal customers, and rewarding them for their loyalty, can be crucial in such a congested market. Also, being able to recognise a loyal customer’s tastes allows you to personalise the items you suggest to them, pushing your conversion rates through the roof.
The American National Retail Federation summed up the benefits of unified commerce succinctly in their “Building the Business Case for a Unified Commerce Platform” report:
Summary of key benefits of unified commerce
- Inventory turn: e.g. increases turn, inventory visibility & optimises allocation.
- Out-of-stock: e.g. reduces stockouts and walked-sales by automating buy anywhere and fulfill anywhere, capabilities.
- Returns: streamlines reverse logistics by delivering historical transaction visibility and simplifying returns processes, across channels.
- Operational efficiency: simplifies workflow by integrating historically disparate systems.
- Conversion rate: drives more shoppers through the purchase funnel by breaking down technical and operational barriers to browse, discover, research, and buy products as they move between store, online, mobile, etc.
- Average order value: increases basket size by providing store assistants and consumers with product information, recommendations, and personalised promotions to inform and incentivise purchases.
- Promotional redemption: enhances promotional effectiveness through business intelligence to tailor and optimise offers.
- Total customer value: increases customer retention and frequency through improved identification of loyal customers and providing appropriate service across physical and virtual touch points.
How can I build a unified commerce platform?
Centralising data in a cloud
To build a unified commerce platform that puts your customers at the heart, you first need a cloud-based system. A cloud commerce platform will allow you to share data and services across all areas of customer experience – digital commerce, in-store commerce, click and collect and personalised orders – allowing you to coordinate them according to your business needs.The fluidity of the data across your platform will improve your understanding of your customer, both their needs and their demands. While omnichannel puts your data in separate silos, unified commerce lets it flow through the entire system.
Adopting an API integration solution is key to uniting all your current and future systems, creating a real-time centralised data hub. At the moment, there is no single company that offers all of the possible retail components on one unified platform. API-based commerce platforms can bring together technologies such as barcode readers and Wi-Fi beacons to provide a seamless, holistic retail experience for your customers. An API solution, like our Fabacus Symphony API, lets your data flow through the entire company, crossing each individual section and facilitating a customer-centric, unified commerce platform.
Unified commerce – the front runner!
When the modern retail market begins, and ends, with the customer’s desires online and in-store, building a unified commerce platform should be at the top of every retailer’s agenda for 2017.