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Today's consumers are complex. They're highly digital with evolving expectations. They care about quality, but also price. They value products that support a higher purpose but not if they have to sacrifice convenience. They'll splurge on experiences and leisure, but only after they've crossed everyday commodities off their list. They know what they want, and they're not willing to wait for it.

What does this mean for businesses, particularly B2C companies like retailers, grocers, quick-serve restaurants and others? 

It means delivering fresh experiences that are more sophisticated, more intelligent and more streamlined for both customers and employees. It means creating highly personalized offerings, backed by data. It means reimagining commerce to evolve with your customers, not behind them. 

Achieving all of this requires a shift to unified commerce.

What is unified commerce? 

Unified commerce is a strategy that connects customer-facing sales channels, critical data and supporting management systems through scalable infrastructure. It breaks down silos across IT systems to provide visibility into customer data, e-commerce, order fulfillment, inventory management, customer relationship management (CRM), point-of-sale (POS) systems and more. 

The result is a more complete view of an organization's business, in which valuable data passes between systems in near real time. Unified commerce allows businesses to make informed decisions, improve operational efficiencies and better serve their customers. 

Unified commerce versus omnichannel

While unified commerce and omnichannel both aim to improve customer experience, there are some key differences.

Omnichannel eliminates silos between front-end touchpoints and channels to create a seamless experience. Think website, social media, voice calls, SMS text messaging, mobile app, in-store experience, etc. Omnichannel ensures these channels deliver a fluid and consistent brand experience as customers navigate across them. Businesses have focused on creating omnichannel experiences for years.

Whereas omnichannel optimizes the front-end, or customer-facing, experience, unified commerce takes it a step further by also ensuring the back-end processes and systems powering those experiences work harmoniously together. It introduces a modern architecture that allows the back end to reflect the same seamlessness as the front end. Unified commerce enables organizations to gain better visibility across their entire business and extract valuable insights for more informed decision making.

An infographic depicting the differences between single channel, multi channel, omnichannel and unified commerce architectures. Single channel displays a consumer with access to a storefront. Multi channel depicts a consumer with access to a storefront, mobile ordering and online ordering. Omnichannel depicts a consumer having access to several channels that are connected. Finally, unified commerce depicts a consumer being connected to all channels that are also connected to back-end systems for complete visibility and real-time updates.
Unified commerce seamlessly connects customer-facing channels and back-end systems.

Unified commerce benefits

By 2023, Gartner predicts unified commerce strategies will become the foundation of competitive advantage in modern retail. Moreover, we see unified commerce helping leaders across industries achieve their business goals related to revenue growth, agility, visibility, cost savings and efficiency. Key benefits include:  

  • Frictionless customer experiences: Customers don't think of businesses in channels. They just want to purchase what they want when they want it, whether that is online; in-store; buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS); curbside pickup; etc. Unified commerce integrates all these channels on the back end so customers can seamlessly browse, transact, purchase and consume. The result? Increased brand loyalty, improved net promoter scores (NPS), more customer referrals and better conversion rates, all leading to increased overall digital revenue growth.
  • Better visibility: Unified commerce helps organizations lasso their data to create a single source of truth, which reduces errors, improves visibility and increases data accuracy. Equipped with this visibility, employees can better forecast inventory, avoid underselling or overselling products, identify opportunities for promotional campaigns, track key performance indicators (KPIs) and analyze the effectiveness of their decisions.
  • Smarter, data-driven decision-making: With accurate data at their fingertips, leaders can identify new revenue streams and potential growth opportunities, drive loyalty and create highly personalized customer experiences.
  • Operational efficiencies: When organizations have disjointed systems for managing sales, purchase orders, inventory and other commerce-related activities, it can slow down business, create costly errors, and cause frustration for customers and employees. Unified commerce enables these systems to work together and share data in near real time to ensure accurate inventory counts, higher sell-through rates and faster order fulfillment.
  • Ability to control your roadmap: Developing a unified commerce strategy allows organizations to control their destiny instead of relying on third-party vendors to add new features and capabilities (i.e., a grocer depending on an outside delivery service). Organizations must be able to pivot, innovate, scale and enhance on the fly to meet their customers' evolving expectations.

What's included in a unified commerce architecture? 

Unified commerce consists of several systems, processes and technologies. When building their own unified commerce architecture, organizations must consider these core concepts and components: 

  • Headless commerce: Growing increasingly popular, headless commerce is the use of modern technologies and architecture to drive adaptability and scale. It decouples an organization's front-end channels (web and mobile e-commerce, social commerce, in-store digital channels, etc.) from the back-end functionality (inventory management, payments, orders, carts, etc.).
  • E-commerce: Any channel that enables customers to buy and sell products and services using the internet.
  • Personalization and loyalty: Many organizations leverage personalization engines and loyalty programs to keep customers coming back. Be sure to include these efforts in your unified commerce strategy.
  • POS systems: Hardware and software solutions that enable the transaction of goods and services across a variety of fulfillment methods. Examples of POS devices may include in-store cash registers/card readers, kiosks and tablets.
  • Marketing technology stack: Marketing platforms and tools that align data, automation and personalization to increase conversions and drive revenue. Examples include customer relationship management (CRM) systems, email marketing platforms, customer engagement platforms (CEP), content management systems (CMS), analytics tools, A/B testing, attribution software, and social media publishing and monitoring tools.

Ready to dive deeper into unified commerce? 

Building your own unified commerce platform can be challenging, especially given all the systems and technologies that must be incorporated across the entire business. If you're unsure how to get started, book a complimentary briefing call with our Digital Advisors. 

Our comprehensive portfolio is designed to help organizations at every stage of their journey to unified commerce. From idea to outcome, we combine our strategic consulting expertise around leading commerce platforms with the ability to execute unified commerce at scale.

We help organizations:

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