The unexpected discovery of something you never realized you needed, frequently coupled with a good price, is one of the most rewarding shopping experiences. This nice surprise might happen during online shopping when you find the perfect present or pick the appropriate outfit for a party. It may also happen in stores as you stroll aisles, leading to an unexpected purchase. Retailers can arrange such moments for their consumers by leveraging cutting-edge technology, ushering in the next phase of retail growth with Unified Commerce.
But what exactly is Unified Commerce, and what does it entail? Unified commerce represents a significant shift in how technology supports the retail industry. When various front-end and back-end technologies seamlessly merge into a single unified platform, technology ceases to be a separate entity. Instead, it seamlessly integrates into the retailer’s business infrastructure, providing an agile system for delivering intelligent and efficient service at every touchpoint in the customer’s journey.
A decade ago, in 2013, my shopping journey involved a visit to the physical mall. Fast forward to today, and I start by launching a video conference with a store concierge, all from the comfort of my home. Thanks to the wealth of data, augmented and virtual reality (AR-VR), and the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure, the concierge suggests items by superimposing their images onto my digital avatar. I open another browser tab to research customer reviews and pricing, only to discover better offers at a different store, prompting me to place my order there. This shopping experience continues as I make one online purchase and then digitally visit another store to explore more options and find the perfect gift.
Hearing a customer say, “I was just strolling by and noticed this, and I had to have it,” is music to a retailer’s ears, whether in a mall or a retail store. It’s a testament to the merchandising team’s exceptional job in curating gift options, making the shopping experience delightful. The customer finds a perfect gift basket more quickly than expected, and the checkout process is the final step to complete their visit.
As I reflect, engage in reading, and hold discussions with retail experts like Kushal Kumar – Vice President of Strategic Delivery Organization at Indium Software – on how retailers aspire to craft extraordinary and personalized “unified” customer experiences, I believe that creating serendipitous moments like the one described above plays a crucial role.
As retailers navigate the opportunities and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the seamless integration of digital and non-digital strategies becomes instrumental in gaining a competitive edge and future-proofing their businesses. Here, we explore three trends shaping retailers’ adoption of a unified commerce strategy.
Prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, the proliferation of Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup was already on the increase. Nonetheless, the crisis has spurred consumer acceptance of these services. Online holiday sales in the United States climbed from $257 billion in 2021 to $270 billion in 2022, but worldwide holiday sales stayed flat at $1.14 trillion year on year. According to Salesforce, the development of the “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) option was a big cause behind this rise, with roughly one in every five worldwide online holiday orders.
An efficient unified commerce framework handles the inherent difficulties of operational management, from storefronts to the back office. Customers, for example, may always get real-time price and product availability. Integration with order and financial data provides clients with a complete record of all their cross-channel purchasing actions, including purchases, refunds, and exchanges made in physical stores and online.
Retailers are better positioned to improve the consumer experience by collecting data across the shopping journey by meeting customers where, when, and how they choose to make purchases. Furthermore, it gives useful insights that allow for the execution of a unified and seamless consumer and brand experience, both online and in-store.
In the words of a customer: “The app indicated that there were only two remaining – and there were two on the shelf.” Customers in the alternative situation just hope that the system’s accuracy matches the in-store reality when they arrive to make a purchase.
Brick-and-mortar stores need a technological architecture that delivers insights akin to online experiences, extending beyond inventory display. Providing such information is paramount in today’s consumer landscape, where purchases are driven by lifestyle, value, and individual preferences. Customers now expect immersive shopping experiences enriched by virtual and augmented reality.
Retailers that tailor their services to individual customer preferences can offer personalized recommendations at every stage of the buying journey, guiding customers toward a successful checkout. To ensure a seamless experience, retailers must ensure the most relevant products are readily accessible, from fitting rooms to endcaps to BOPIS pickup points. Real-time sensor data, machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI) can revolutionize these processes, providing live inventory information, SKU-specific stock levels, and insights into consumer interactions with products.
Unified commerce amplifies the in-store shopping experience by consolidating consumer data from various channels into a single view, accessible to store executives through mobile POS devices. Yet, true success relies on the ability to collect and translate data into meaningful insights. Integrating intelligence at every stage of the commerce journey is vital for delivering unique and context-aware shopping experiences.
As consumers entrust more of their personal information to their smartphones, digital payments are swiftly becoming the preferred payment method. Mobile payments offer immediate checkout, as a mere touch of the payment app icon triggers the transaction. In contrast, traditional POS systems take several seconds to approve and process chip credit card payments. Though seemingly minor, these seconds hold significant value for the modern omnichannel customer.
Beyond saving time, mobile payments profoundly influence a retailer’s brand. Retailers that are slow to adopt cutting-edge technology risk being perceived as outdated and out of touch. This is a critical concern, especially considering the preferences of a new, younger generation of customers who favor contemporary technology and expect businesses to keep pace.
A unified commerce framework’s adaptable design forms a robust foundation for engaging with state-of-the-art mobile technologies. By extending digital wallet support to various payment providers, unified commerce ensures the fulfillment of essential payment needs and provides comprehensive support for seamless purchasing experiences. Consolidating data and processes affords retailers the visibility needed to gain deeper insights into customer-facing aspects of their business, enabling continuous improvement and effortless integration with modern mobile technologies.
“I misplaced the receipt but can quickly find it on my app.” This level of convenience is exemplified by industry leaders like Amazon, Alibaba, Starbucks, Macy’s, and Lowe’s. Retailers must shift their focus from just the product to the individual customer, continuously monitoring customer share-of-wallet and lifetime value, transcending omnichannel strategies to excel in the intense competition.
To achieve this, retailers should adopt an open, secure, and agile platform that amalgamates retailer and third-party data sources and deploys advanced technologies such as AI and ML. This approach offers unparalleled visibility into operations and invaluable shopper insights. Regardless of their purchasing intent, whether it’s finding the perfect gift, selecting the ideal outfit, shopping for groceries, or decorating their homes, consumers crave surprise and delight. They desire hyper-personalized experiences.
By Uma Raj
By Uma Raj
By Abishek Balakumar
Abishek Balakumar is a Tech Marketing Visionary and a Strategic Marketing Consultant specializing in Banking and Financial Services. As a seasoned Partner Marketer, he leverages his expertise to host engaging podcasts and webinars. With a keen focus on APAC and US event management, he is a specialist and enabler in orchestrating successful business events. Abishek is also a gifted Business Storyteller and an accomplished Author, holding a master's degree in Marketing and Data & Analytics.