The Imperative for Unified Commerce and Integration
Retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies today face significant pressure to deliver seamless shopping experiences across all channels. After the pandemic, online sales soared, and even though consumers are returning to brick-and-mortar shops, e-commerce is still on its way to grab 41% of global retail sales by 2027.
Meeting the rising demands of e-commerce at great speed requires unifying data, technologies, and teams behind consistent omnichannel customer journeys - the vision behind unified commerce. In fact, findings show that 86% of retail software spending is now directed towards unified commerce. This marks a shift away from traditional multi-channel or omni-channel software, highlighting the growing preference for unified commerce.
Unified commerce combines customer-facing services with backend processes, creating a cohesive ecosystem that enhances customer experiences and streamlines employee and partner operations. The result? Enterprises can offer a more personalized and efficient service, meeting the modern expectations for convenience and accessibility.
In this article, my goal is to help you understand the transformations essential for retailers to excel in experience delivery through unified commerce.
And if there’s one thing I want to leave you with after reading this piece, it’s that when it comes to unified commerce, a retailer is successful if the customer doesn't feel the channel.
Key Benefits of a Unified Commerce Approach
Working closely with retailers, I see firsthand how unified commerce allows them to deliver consistent and personalized engagement across channels, while also innovating faster by reducing feature duplication and focusing on value-added experiences.
Retailers derive deeper customer insights with unified data and metrics, tailoring engagement and boosting sales. In fact, a research benchmark study found that unified retailers realize 3-6X higher annual revenue growth.
Additionally, one cannot forget that whether customers browse online before purchasing in-store or return items purchased on mobile at a physical store, their history, preferences, and context persist across interactions. I find that leveraging the data of these interactions to craft experiences minimizes friction, building loyalty and lifetime value.
Overall, embracing a unified commerce approach yields significant advantages for retailers:
- Consistent omnichannel experience: Deliver consistent experiences across all channels, whether online, in-app, or in-store, to foster customer trust and satisfaction.
- Higher conversion, retention, and lifetime value: Increase conversion rates, customer retention, and lifetime value as customers gravitate to convenient and reliable experiences.
- Faster innovation and improved agility: Foster innovation and agility with the standardization and reusability of processes across channels. You can quickly adapt to market changes and customer needs, launching new offerings or adapting existing ones with greater speed.
- Empowering customer service and employee experience: Deliver a better service with a holistic view of the customer journey.
- Deeper Customer Insights: Access deeper customer insights for more targeted marketing, personalized experiences, and informed decision-making.
Challenges in Pursuing Unification
Despite the clear upside, most retailers struggle to activate unified models. For instance, 73% of customers want order tracking across all touchpoints but only 7% of retailers deliver this capability.
So, what’s stifling the transition to a unified commerce strategy? Mostly silos, strategy misalignment, and interfacing legacy systems. Let’s dig a little deeper.
- Strategy misalignment and ownership issues: Often, different stakeholders own independent channels, leading to a lack of clear, cohesive strategy alignment. Retailers must establish a unified and collaborative approach to ensure the success of the integration.
- Dealing with disconnected legacy systems and data: Overcoming the limitations posed by legacy systems involves investing in tech upgrades and ensuring that new systems can effectively communicate with existing ones.
- Breaking down organizational silos: Silos within an organization, often aligned to specific channels or traditional customer perspectives, can hinder unification efforts. Encouraging cross-departmental collaboration and fostering a culture that embraces holistic customer views is essential.
- Managing emerging technologies: The integration of emerging technologies poses its own set of challenges. Enterprises must balance the adoption of new technologies with existing systems, ensuring compatibility and smooth operation.
Strategizing and Activating your Unified Commerce Roadmap: Key Technological Insights
Orchestrating unified commerce requires rethinking architectures with cloud-native building blocks decoupling experience frontends from mission-critical data. Here are some of the key technological aspects you must consider when charting your unified commerce roadmap:
- Modernizing the digital backbone: The foundation of any unified commerce strategy is a modern digital backbone that integrates core systems to support seamless operations across all channels.
- Headless commerce architectures: Adopting headless architectures allows enterprises to separate front-end layers from back-end functionalities. This flexibility enables rapid adaptation to market changes and customer preferences without overhauling the entire system. For instance, headless backends serve consistent features to any endpoint – website, mobile, IoT. Robust Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) then securely connect apps while cloud platforms scale distribution.
- Cloud-based integration platforms: Cloud-based platforms facilitate the integration of various retail systems. They offer scalability, flexibility, and efficiency, making them ideal for managing the complexities of a unified commerce environment.
- Integrated customer data platforms powered by enterprise data fabric: Centralizing customer data through integrated platforms powered by enterprise data fabric provides a comprehensive view of customer interactions across all channels. This is essential for personalization and targeted marketing.
- Delivering hyper-personalization at scale: By leveraging centralized customer data and advanced analytics, enterprises tailor experiences to individual preferences.
I always recommend that enterprises explore cloud migration, containerizing applications, and the use of Platforms as a Service (PaaS) and APIs for backend connections. Additionally, I find that unified data platforms, content management, and testing frameworks are essential in driving personalization at scale. I strongly believe this technological foundation is crucial for enterprises aiming to thrive in the fiercely competitive retail and CPG environment.
With so much at stake, the technology overhaul behind unified commerce mandates enterprise-wide coordination:
- It's crucial to prioritize customer journey mapping over channels to detect broken experiences and ecosystem constraints.
- Build an ecosystem leveraging composable architecture for all channels, and then add unique features.
- Invest in emerging technologies like blockchain and extended reality (XR) that provide a platform for future innovation and growth. These technologies can revolutionize retail experiences, offering new ways to engage customers and streamline operations.
- Invest in skill development and organizational change strategies that support your unified commerce roadmap.
Accelerating the Future of Retail
The primary goal of every commerce platform is to enhance every customer interaction. Adopting a unified commerce strategy enhances these interactions and minimizes obstacles. Research by PwC reveals that 52% of consumers are inclined to spend more when their shopping experience is seamless and hassle-free.
Looking ahead, immersive digital environments will raise consumer expectations for retail. As 5G connectivity spreads, IoT integration will birth smart hyper-personalized experiences while VR try-ons will increase conversion. Retailers must architect for composability across clouds and edges to fuel the next innovations.
The way I see it, unified commerce is not just a trend; it's the future of retail, offering an authentic customer-centricity approach that will drive tangible business growth in an increasingly digital world.
Finding the Right Unified Commerce Partner
Finding the right partner to unify your business processes and bring your vision of unified commerce to life is a critical decision. At Encora, we understand the challenges enterprises face when seeking to successfully implement a unified commerce approach because we’ve helped numerous clients overcome them.
Our approach tackles strategy misalignment, legacy applications, organizational silos, and more, by unifying e-commerce, physical retail, and omnichannel strategies using the latest technology, implementing unified commerce best practices, and applying our deep understanding of the unified commerce ecosystem.
We tailor each unified commerce solution to ensure retailers have the perfect blend of solutions and competitive advantages to create memorable customer experiences, optimize processes, and drive growth.
Choose Encora, and let's embark on this journey of unified commerce excellence.