Unified commerce might seem like just another blip on the retail jargon radar, but I’d argue that it is the future of the industry. Shoppers want the option to use their smartphone, go into a store, or open up their laptop to buy a product. Each of those sales and touch points is valuable.
Take Walmart, for example. The behemoth said last fall that its online sales would rise 40% in FY 2019, acting as the driving force behind its overall three percent sales growth. In such a tumultuous time for retailers, this growth far outpaces most of its competition. While Walmart is enjoying this online growth, it is simultaneously trying to boost in-store sales.
Hence, it’s offering lower prices for in-store pick up on items that become unprofitable when they are shipped to customers. Walmart is optimizing its selling channels and doing everything in its power to increase cart sizes, whether they are virtual or rolling through their aisles.
Unified commerce provides an enhanced CX
Unified commerce boils down to improving customer experience. It requires retailers to meet shoppers wherever they happen to be. Say a shopper is waiting for the train and wants to order household items during those few idle moments. The retailer must be able to facilitate that purchase with competitive pricing and shipping options and an easy to navigate mobile site, otherwise that busy shopper will quickly grow frustrated and take their business elsewhere.
Shoppers have more options than ever and loyalty is fleeting. Correcting a bad customer experience is a time-consuming and costly process. It is best avoided by investing in a positive customer experience for all shoppers, across all channels, from the get-go.
The words have changed, but the foundational idea has not. Whether you choose to call it omnichannel retail or unified commerce, shoppers need a simple way to buy what they want in a seamless way. This is much more complex than it seems, but mastering it means that the war between brick and mortar can finally end.
Pricing is a huge part of this, as shoppers expect pricing to be the same across channels. If a customer sees a dress online that looks perfect, but she wants to try it on before she buys, tacking on an extra $20 in the store will erode customer trust. The best case scenario would be that she finds her correct size in the store, then completes her purchase from her smartphone in the dressing room. In unified commerce, channels work together to win sales and provide a cohesive experience. Having a sleek website and a cluttered store or making pricing incongruent both go against unified commerce.
Simple logic: Returns must be easy and seamless
Logistics is another factor to consider. Buy online, return in-store (or BORIS, as some call it) is complicated, but necessary for a positive customer experience under unified commerce. Shoppers need to be informed that they can return items in-store and be greeted by an intuitive return process.
If your shopper has to go to two different floors due to confusing signage or to wait in line for 20 minutes, then your BORIS capabilities need an overhaul. BORIS lightens the load for retailers, as they can quickly get the returned item back on the sales floor and sell it again. This is a far better option than having a shopper send the item back to a warehouse, or worse, letting a liquidator handle it.
Taking logistics a step further, ship-from-store is another way to effectively practice unified commerce. Shoppers usually want their items as quickly as possible, and shipping them from three states away is a hassle for everyone involved. If the same item is sitting in a store in the next town over, why not leverage it as a distribution center? It lowers costs for the retailer and expedites the shipping process. The shopper could even elect to pick it up if they need it very quickly.
Three ways to implement unified commerce
To make the most of unified commerce, retailers need to focus on several forms of communication. First, set up internal processes so that products ship from the most effective locations. This inventory needs to be transparent on both sides, internal and customer-facing. Second, let online shoppers know if the item they want is available at a nearby store, so they can choose to pick it up. Or, if an item is out of stock in store, have it shipped free from the closest distribution center. Third, educate shoppers on your processes to help them make use of the conveniences you’ve worked so hard to create.
Unified commerce is the best way to offer a positive customer experience. Every channel needs to work together in real-time, connected by the cloud. Walmart and many other retailers are starting to align their channels to keep customers happy and enjoy significant growth. In no time, retailers of all sizes will be putting it to good use.
Simply connecting channels isn’t enough. It’s past time for Customer Experience: OmniChannel. OmniNow. OmniWow.