One of the most satisfying shopping experiences is when you stumble across something that you never knew you needed, and even seeing an offer on it. This can happen while shopping online when finding a perfect gift, picking the right costume for a party or even In-stores while strolling through the well-curated aisles leading to an unexpected purchase. Retailers can curate such experiences for their patrons using the right technology, by taking the next step in evolution, Unified Commerce.  

What is Unified Commerce? What does it mean? 

Unified commerce addresses a major change in how innovation upholds the retail business. When different front-end and back-end technologies combine into a single platform, technology is no longer a distinct entity; rather, it merges seamlessly into the retailer’s business foundation, offering an agile system for delivering intelligent, efficient service at every touchpoint. 

The experience of shopping 

A decade back, in 2011, I would have headed straight for the mall. Today, I shop from the comfort of my couch by launching a video conference with my concierge at the nearest store. With more data, AR-VR, IoT infrastructure, the concierge suggests items – superimposing images of them onto my avatar. I switch to another browser tab to research customer reviews and pricing. I found better offers at another store, and I ordered them. I bought one item online and then travelled to the other store to experience & explore more options in finding a perfect gift. 

How can a retailer bring joy to shopping? 

As I think, read and have discussions with retail experts about how retailers are striving to create these magnificent and personalised “unified” customer experiences, I believe a key factor is to create serendipitous moments like the one described above.  

As retailers continue to explore the opportunities and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, tightly integrated digital and non-digital strategies will enable them to win in an exceptionally competitive market and future-proof their businesses. Here are three trends impacting retailers in accelerating the adoption of unified commerce strategy. 

#1 An opportunity you can’t ignore! – Rise of new fulfilment options 

Despite the fact that BOPIS and curbside pickup were growing before COVID-19, the pandemic accelerated consumer adoption of these services. McKinsey and Co affirmed this momentum, 60% of US shoppers who utilized BOPIS in 2020 said that they will embrace it even after the pandemic subsides. Nonetheless, a successful unified commerce framework can easily handle each facet of operational management from storefronts to back office along with all of their inherent complexities.  

For example, it allows customers to view the most up-to-date pricing and inventory availability at all times. Integration with order and financial data also provides customers with a record of all their cross-channel purchasing activities. Purchases, refunds, and exchanges made in a physical store or online are all available! By capturing data throughout the entire shopper journey, retailers can improve their customer experience and meet them where, when, and how they want to purchase; and can gain actionable insights to help them providing a unified and seamless customer & brand experience, both online and in-store.  

#2 Consumer demand for personalised experiences – How to get ready for it? 

Brick and mortar stores must be built with a technological architecture that provides insights similar to online experiences  – and not only for inventory display. As customers become more intentional than ever about the things they buy – whether for lifestyle, value, or other reasons – providing this information is key & personalized experiences are essential. Customers expect engaging shopping experiences to be powered by virtual and augmented reality. 

Retailers who provide service personalised to their customers’ preferences can provide recommendations at each point of their purchasing journey – leading the customer to a final check-out. 

To provide a seamless experience, retailers must guarantee that the product most relevant to the consumer is present and accessible from the fitting room to the endcaps to the BOPIS pickup. With the availability of real-time sensor data, machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence(AI), these processes can be revolutionized. These solutions can provide real-time information on inventory levels decreasing out of stock circumstances per stock-keeping unit (SKU), and consumer interactions with the product. With this data, retailers can create VR/AR experiences that leverage popular trends while also appealing to customer desires and curiosity. 

Unified commerce enhances the in-store shopping and service experience by integrating consumer data from multiple channels into a single view and making it available to store executives via mobile POS devices. However, success necessitates an increasing intake of data as well as the capacity to transform that data into meaningful insights. 

#3 Tech-friendly millennial & GenZ customer base grows 

As consumers continue to save more personal information on their phones, digital payments are becoming the preferred method of payment. Mobile payments provide checkout immediacy since they occur the instant a consumer touches the payment app icon, whereas it takes a POS system several seconds to approve and process a chip credit card. While this may not appear to be much, time is of the essence for the omnichannel customer. 

In addition to saving time, mobile payments have a greater impact on a retailer’s brand. Retailers that are not on board with the newest creative technology risk seeming obsolete and irrelevant – a big issue given that a new, younger generation of customers prefer contemporary technology and will expect businesses to keep up. According to an NRF survey, 

A unified commerce framework’s adaptable design contributes to laying a solid basis for interacting with cutting-edge mobile technologies. By offering digital wallet support across a variety of payment providers, unified commerce can ensure that essential payment demands are satisfied and purchasing experiences are fully supported. Keeping data and processes together gives retailers the visibility they want to better understand customer-facing aspects of the business that may be improved and allowing retailers to easily integrate with modern mobile technologies. 

 “I misplaced the receipt, but I can quickly find it on my app.” Who is good at this? Amazon, Alibaba, Starbucks, Macy’s, and Lowe’s are just a few examples. Retailers must go beyond (omnichannel) merely surviving to flourish in the competitive retail sector. They may achieve this by implementing an open, secure, and agile platform that combines retailer and third-party data sources, as well as sophisticated technologies like AI and ML, to provide unmatched visibility into operations and shopper insights. Regardless of the purchasing objective – whether it’s discovering the ideal gift, selecting the perfect outfit, groceries, or decor – your consumers want to be surprised and thrilled. They want hyper personalized experiences. 

Abishek Balakumar