Omni-channel may be on the agenda for many retailers, but the retail industry is already ramping up for a move to something beyond that – Unified commerce. With this, shopping online or via mobile device, or in a brick-and-mortar store, leverages a single commerce platform. More broadly, unified commerce encompasses a transformational approach to all retail activities, both online and in-store, including transactions, order management, fulfillment and inventory. It also includes clienteling, CRM and customer contact center management; all in real time, all at the same time.
The interest is easy to grasp. Today’s customers want a seamless experience whether they’re shopping in-store or online. According to Boston Retail Partners’ (BRP) 2016 Digital Commerce Survey, here is what leading North American retailers are saying about their digital commerce priorities and initiatives:
- 40% believe personalization is a top digital priority. Retailers look to offer product research, personalized recommendations, consistent service and more across all channels.
- 46% say improving the mobile shopping experience is a top priority and 75% will host a single shared cart across channels within 3 years. An important part of this effort is to centralize their order management system (OMS) onto a single platform, to provide executives, managers, sales associates and contact center staff access to customer data and to track purchase behavior across channels.
Achieving these priorities points to unified commerce as a logical solution, and retailers are moving in that direction. The survey noted that 22% of respondents already have a unified commerce platform, and 73% plan to have one implemented by the end of 2019.
Cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions are already easing the pain of moving away from outdated on-premises solutions with patchwork functionality that simply don’t support real-time cross-channel customer transactions and service.
Taking steps toward unified commerce
Adopting unified commerce requires a step-by-step approach. Most established retailers have a large investment in their current infrastructure and can’t afford to throw it away or “rip and replace” and start over. BRP’s survey results suggests taking these steps as part of the planning process that keeps this in mind:
- Understand your customer: Determine the various types of customers you have and how they want to engage with your brand.
- Review your commerce initiatives: Does your short-term commerce initiative meet customer preferences? What changes are needed to move to unified commerce and which changes are most important?
- Ensure organizational alignment with a seamless customer experience: This involves reviewing compensation, roles, incentives and key performance indicators (KPIs) across what may have been disparate store and ecommerce personnel to support a seamless cross-channel customer experience.
- Create a roadmap: Look ahead three years to determine an accurate budget for shifting to unified commerce, taking organizational changes into account.
Making sure your infrastructure is unified commerce ready
Unified commerce looks at retail in a more holistic way than anything that has come before reflecting the significant changes in the environment and among customers. To be prepared, you need to look at it from all angles. That means, in addition to looking for a seamless cloud-based software solution, you will also need a robust network infrastructure to put that solution in place. Hybrid networks and SD-WAN are always great places to start that conversation, since both can deliver the power, reliability, security and flexibility to make sure that desired seamless, unified experience is delivered, regardless of where the customer is, or which channel they are interacting with.
What are your organization’s plans for unified commerce and how do you see the network supporting that? Come see us at NRF Jan. 15-17, 2017 in New York and fill us in. We’ll be in NRF Booth 3963, along with experts from BRP. It’s always interesting to hear how people look at this and related topics regarding business and IT transformation and we’d welcome hearing different perspectives. See you there or let us know yours thoughts in advance if you have a few moments.
– Greg Griffiths
According to the results of the 2016 Digital Commerce Survey from retail consulting leader BRP, co-sponsored by EarthLink, 56% of retailers indicate their top digital priority is to create a consistent brand experience across channels, while 73% plan to use an order management system to support unified commerce in the next 3 years.