With all the disparate shopping channels converging, the time for optimization is now. Omnichannel retail is out and unified commerce is the latest and greatest way to provide a cohesive shopping experience. On one hand, omnichannel was about the existence of multiple selling channels. Since then, many more layers have been added on top. When it comes to unified commerce, all of those selling channels must work together as a single source of truth to help the shopper along the path to purchase.
The race to unified channels is on, as 28 percent of a sample of 500 North American retailers indicated they had already implemented a platform to support a unified commerce strategy. That is in sharp contrast to 9 percent of respondents who reported the same in 2017. The future of retail is certainly unified, especially if Boston Retail Partners’ projection that 81 percent of retailers would have unified commerce in place by 2019 comes to fruition.
So much of unified commerce has to do with personalization and acting on customer data properly. After all, sending shoppers general promotions and incongruent product recommendations will simply turn them away. In order to make the most out of unified commerce, retailers and direct to consumer brands need to find a way to stand out.
1. Order Fulfillment
Fast and free shipping is becoming a table stakes issue for shoppers. With Amazon spoiling consumers and getting them accustomed to 2-day shipping, competitors have scrambled to keep up with shoppers’ heightened expectations. In fact, NRF recently reported that 47 percent of shoppers decide not to complete their purchase if they don’t qualify for free shipping.
Retailers that implement an effective unified commerce business model will be able to leverage their assets to meet customer expectations. Take Best Buy, for example. They ship products from the nearest store if they don’t happen to have a warehouse within a reasonable distance. There’s no reason to make shoppers wait and, in turn, discourage their purchases. Instead, savvy retailers are able to differentiate themselves from competitors by using all of their stock to their advantage. And that leads me to the second point of differentiation.
2. Stock Levels
A unified commerce retailer never has to be out of stock. While a pure-play retailer may state “out of stock” on their website, retailers with integrated selling channels have the opportunity to tell the shopper that it is in-stock at a store not too far from their home. Knowing where a repeat customer typically shops can provide them with alternative options and save that sale. When channels work together, there is no way to be out of stock. As long as a store or warehouse within the network has what the customer is looking for, it can easily be shipped or put on hold for pick up.
3. Personalized Promotions
All retailers want to know their customers: what they like, what they buy, what they would pay more for. Gaining access to this data is invaluable for retailers because it allows them to provide shoppers with the best products and experiences. Having a cohesive database of what your shopper has bought online and in-store makes it easier to send them promotions that make sense.
Say a female customer has been buying maternity clothes on a retailer’s website for several months. As she starts buying more clothes for newborns and tapers off her maternity purchases, marketing more maternity clothing to her will not lead to additional sales. Retail requires a human component that pitches the right promotions based on data and common sense. Retailers leveraging unified commerce are uniquely positioned to provide this for their customers because they have the infrastructure to back them up.
4. Comprehensive Returns
One of the biggest downfalls of eCommerce used to be returns. Shoppers might have had to pay to send the item back, find a box to put the item in and wait for a substantial amount of time to see the refund reflected on their credit card statement. Through BORIS (buy online, return in-store), this no longer has to be a point of friction. Retailers that take returns and process them quickly in-store are at a distinct advantage because shoppers know that a quick trip downtown or to the mall will allow them to return the item. Making this process easy on shoppers encourages them to check out. And this has the added bonus of encouraging shoppers to make a new purchase while they stop by the store to do the return. Pure play retailers miss out on this additional touchpoint that can be used to foster a stronger relationship with the customer.
Shopping on the go has become a norm for smartphone-enabled shoppers. If you don’t make the mobile shopping experience seamless, shoppers are going to take their business elsewhere. With the direction retail has been going in (getting more products, faster), survival depends on providing the products shoppers want, on their preferred channel, at a price and shipping speed that they agree with. In modern retail, selling channels can’t be siloed. Instead, they must work together, as they do in unified commerce, in order to secure the sale.