Industry Focus: Retail

Defining and Embracing Unified Commerce

* By Sandy Smith *

Those who have been in the retail industry for any length of time no doubt remember the transition from single channel to multichannel, so retailers could sell via the internet. Multichannel gave way to omnichannel, which promised a seamless experience no matter how the shopper encountered the retailer.

Enter unified commerce, which Chris Shaw, senior director of product marketing and analyst relations at MHI Member Manhattan Associates, defines as a “a single technology solution that offers an identical experience to consumers regardless of how or where they choose to engage with a retailer.”

Thought the stakes for omnichannel were high? Jim Barnes, CEO of MHI Member enVista Corp., says unified commerce only increases the pressure on retailers. “In the world of unified commerce, everything is around the customer. How do I delight him or her? How do I ensure that I’m getting the right product to him or her, that I’m creating brand awareness and loyalty around him or her? The customer is at the center of my business, my data models.”

Unified commerce offers plenty of potential to the retailers. Shaw notes that the differences in unified commerce and omnichannel are “subtle. Omnichannel refers to being able to provide that seamless and similar experience regardless of channel, but it was often provided with a lot of heroics on the backend to connect disjointed systems in the store, the contact center, online, and social, etc. A unified commerce platform offers a much nimbler and more scalable place to start because all the components used to deliver a personalized common experience are part of the same solution.”

That same solution may mean that a retailer can know who the customer is if they interact on Snapchat. If the shopper enters a mall, geofencing pings to the mobile device and allows the retailers to start communicating with the customer, offering specific promotions based on what the customer has shown a likelihood of purchasing.

The end goal of unified commerce, Barnes said, is “about engagement, about personalization, and it is 100 percent about building the relationship with the consumer to create brand loyalty.”

Omnichannel, we hardly knew ya

Unified commerce might seem a utopian idea right out of 2002 thriller Minority Report, especially given that some retailers haven’t fully accomplished omnichannel yet. Shaw said that most of the progress being made centers around “offering online fulfillment from stores, accepting returns and exchanges outside the original purchase channel and better understanding their customers individually.”

Buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) is fairly common these days, though “the step up to ship-from-store requires real-time inventory accuracy and the confidence they can deliver on the promises they make,” Shaw said.

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