What We Mean When We Talk About Unified Commerce
The term unified commerce has come into vogue in the retail sector, but what does it mean? Some retail experts say unified commerce is a bunch of retail channels consolidated into a single software (e.g., Boston Retail Partners, software vendors). Others think it’s a buzzword not much different from omnichannel. A few see it as an advertising ploy to convince retailers to invest in technology change. Unified commerce seems to shape-shift across the retail landscape depending on who’s doing the talking. So, what does unified commerce look like for your company?
Unified commerce for major retailers
The size of your company may inform the definition. For a smaller company with a limited tech stack, it might be feasible to rely on a single platform for all of your retail channels. For a major retailer, however, it’s probably not realistic to consolidate all of marketing, sales, customer service, supply chain, web, etc. channels into a single platform. For a company the size of Target or Macy’s, the best approach to data may be to decentralize it with multiple versions of truth, as opposed to a single system of record. This drives business agility by operationalizing data across an organization based on different business units’ needs, helping them make decisions faster. Even without a single system of record, major retailers can still meet customers’ expectations for unified commerce.
Unified commerce for customers
More than 70 percent of customers want to be able to track orders across all points of interaction. In other words, customers want a fluid shopping experience whether they’re in store, on a website, on the phone with customer service or using an app. If a retailer calls this experience unified commerce or omnichannel or fluid shopping doesn’t matter much to customers. So long as the experience meets their expectations—an experience that is highly personalized and harmonized across all channels of customer engagement.
Shoppers who grew up with Amazon, online subscription services and smartphones have expectations that are very different than those of past generations. So, what does the future of shopping want in a retail experience?
- 83% of millennials find online content useful in making purchasing decisions.
- 3 out of 4 millennials would choose to spend their money on an experience.
- 63% of millennials complete transactions on their smartphones.
- 61% of millennials purchased fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) online in the past three months.
- 56% of millennials purchase products online at least half of the time following a store visit.
Each of these stats represents a different channel of engagement for a prospective customer that will be setting the trends for the foreseeable future. From online content to smartphone purchases and in-store browsing, a new generation of customers blends shopping across different devices and brick-and-mortar experiences. With all of these data sources across so many different channels, the challenge to date has been how to surface customer insights from disparate systems.
Enter the Open Data Initiative (ODI)
Though many retailers have a swath of cool new tools to provide an omnichannel customer experience, the data captured across various channels often remains siloed, limiting the ability to source business insights and accomplish the goals of unified commerce. To address this challenge, Microsoft, SAP and Adobe came together in the fall of 2018 to create the ODI to centralize customer data.
The ODI specifies a common data model from about 50 databases to help centralize the data from SAP, Adobe and Microsoft products. With the ODI, retailers will be able to consolidate ERP, marketing and sales data from across the business. It also offers an opportunity for retailers to use a common data lake and AI and machine learning to provide robust analytics. The ODI is designed to enable companies to surface critical customer insights and further personalize the customer experience, which could be a game-changer in an increasingly hyper-competitive retail sector.
The next frontier for retail customer experience
Retailers have struggled for years to personalize customer experiences due to a lack of complete data, but a new category of tools is emerging to solve the problem: Consumer data platforms, like the ODI, are expected to elevate retailers beyond their current siloed channel approach by completing their customer data sets and delivering true personalization. Unified commerce may only become a reality for major retailers with the advent of these consumer data platforms.