Unified commerce means combining customer and product data so that retailers can provide accurate and relevant information and offers to each customer. Here are some of the steps a retailer must take to move to a unified commerce platform.

Alex Soncini, North America general manager, VTEX

The retail industry is moving to unified commerce fast. Twenty-eight percent of retailers had adopted unified commerce by 2018, according to Boston Retail Partners, and 81% plan to deploy it by the end of 2020. Merchants and brands are making the move because unified commerce can improve the customer experience as CX is something that more than 80% of businesses say they’ll need to compete on.

However, the cost and logistics of unified commerce implementation can be a challenge without the right resources. Here’s how unified commerce can create better CX and more streamlined omnichannel operations while being easy to implement, scalable and budget-friendly.

By bringing data into a single stream and analyzing it to understand customer behavior, retailers can close the gaps in the omnichannel customer experience.

Customer experience is a top priority, but omnichannel retail is fragmented

Omnichannel commerce evolved to meet rising consumer preferences for convenience, product selection and options for how they want to shop—in-store, from a web browser or on their phones. Although omnichannel started as a way for brick and mortar retailers to compete against pure-play online retailers, some online brands have discovered the showroom and in-person service benefits of physical stores.

Now, customers expect seamless omnichannel shopping experiences. They want to move between channels during their buying journey without losing their place or having to re enter data. They want the retailers they already shop with to recognize them as existing customers.

advertisement

How much do these consumer preferences matter? 63% of shoppers say they expect personalized offers and interactions with the stores where they shop. Recent consumer surveys by BRP Consulting found that:

In other words, retailers must get the customer experience right or lose customers.

In theory, an omnichannel strategy should enable retailers to meet all these customer experience expectations. But when an omnichannel retailer uses legacy platforms and multiple databases, there are often gaps in customer recognition, personalization, and in-stock product information. The overall quality of customer experience can suffer as a result.

When customers fall into these gaps during their buying journey, it’s “very frustrating.” Among the problems customers run into are irrelevant offers, offers for items they’ve already purchased and not being recognized as a returning customer. These frustrated customers are likely to move on to other stores and brands that offer a unified experience.

From omnichannel to unified commerce

Eliminating the customer experience gaps in the omnichannel strategy is a major reason so many retailers are looking into unified commerce if they haven’t already implemented it. One goal of unified commerce is to give customers a consistent, real-time view of data about products, pricing, and availability.

advertisement

That means whether they’re shopping for jeans on a retailer’s mobile app, with a desktop browser or by asking Siri about the retailer’s stock, they’ll get the same, up-to-date data. It also means that the retailer’s app, website, and in-store associates will recognize those customers and offer them personalized experiences and loyalty perks. That personalization can extend to social and email marketing offers, built on a single, unified view of each customer’s purchase history and product searches.

Unified data across channels can deliver the seamless, personalized experience that consumers expect. It can also prevent the kinds of frustration that turn customers away from merchants. For example, few shopping experiences are more frustrating than looking up a product on a retail website, seeing that it’s available in a nearby physical store and then finding it’s out-of-stock when you get there. With a unified, continuously updated product database, merchants can avoid creating these types of bad experiences and retain more customers.

Implementing unified commerce

So why hasn’t every merchant moved to unified commerce already? It may require re-platforming, which represents an investment of time and money. But the alternative is losing out to competitors who are making the switch. An Internet Retailer report found that 21% of retailers planned to re-platform in 2019 because ecommerce and better customer experience are so crucial to their business.

What does it take to move to a unified commerce platform? It doesn’t take a huge in-house development effort. Ninety percent of the retailers who told Internet Retailer they planned to re-platform were looking at outside vendors for their new systems. This is often the best choice for retailers who want a faster time to implement, a lower total cost of ownership and easier scalability than they could get with an in-house solution.

There are also steps retailers can take to make the unified commerce transition quicker and simpler. The most important is to start moving to an omnichannel sales workflow.

advertisement

Building an omnichannel sales workflow requires bringing all the product data into an area where bricks-and-mortar retail teams and ecommerce teams—everyone who needs to see product data—can access it. Types of data to include in this new workflow are:

  • Real-time stock availability
  • Good images of products in and out of their packaging
  • Accurate product dimensions
  • Product uses and other information
  • Related accessories

When everyone who contributes to the store’s customer experience—in-store, online or behind the scenes on your website—has the same information, customers get a seamless, accurate experience. That builds trust and can encourage repeat visits.

Unified commerce also requires combining online customer accounts with in-store purchase histories to create a single view of customer behavior. With that in place, a retailer can offer consistent, personalized experiences in all channels so that customers don’t get frustrated and move on.

Retailers can also analyze their unified customer data to understand how their customers behave in each channel. Are customers doing research on their mobile devices and buying in-store, or are they completing the whole shopping journey online? Are they using their phones to search the retail site while they’re in the store? This information is the key to giving customers what they want in all channels to support their buying journey.

By bringing data into a single stream and analyzing it to understand customer behavior, retailers can close the gaps in the omnichannel customer experience. That can help them stay competitive in a rapidly changing retail environment where customer experience is a make-or-break factor.

advertisement

VTEX provides commerce technology designed to enable retailers to serve customers across channels.

Favorite