6 Ways a Unified Commerce Solution Can Completely Transform Your Retail Business – Part 1

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Competing in today’s fast-moving and ever-changing retail landscape requires organizations to keep up with their consumers. Obviously, being able to do this requires the proper technology and tools.

Every day retailers are open, they collect large amounts of data on consumer preferences, customer habits, inventory, and marketing campaigns. However, most of these retailers use multiple systems to run their businesses, such as Point-of-Sale (POS), e-commerce, CRM, inventory management, etc. This means that each system stores data in separate databases. Sometimes organizations have found ways to integrate these systems, but most often, these systems are not able to seamlessly and instantly connect to one another. As a result, pulling the data together to analyze it becomes a complex, costly, and lengthy manual process. Many business do not have the resources to make this work, leaving most of this consumer data to sit in the abyss.

Until recently, this was the retailer norm. But it doesn’t have to be YOUR norm. A unified commerce solution will eliminate the need for multiple, disparate systems to bring everything, including that rich consumer data, under one platform. We have six ways a unified commerce solution can completely transform your retail business. This blog contains the first three reasons.

Keep the customer experience at the center.

Gartner reports that 89% of retail businesses believe that by 2020, most competition will center their businesses around the quality of the customer experience. What does this entail?

It’s important to keep in mind that when designing a shopping experience, consumers do not think in terms of channels. When they interact with your business, they expect consistent information and the same quality of service across the board. It doesn’t matter if they’re shopping online, at a brick-and-mortar store, or through a call center. They want the information and experience to be consistent no matter what.

What an un-unified commerce solution does to the customer experience

For example, let’s take a frequent customer of your organization, Sharon, who decides to shop online for the first time. She is already a member of your loyalty program, and she uses this info to log in. However, the system treats her as if she was a new customer, with zero information regarding her shopping history at local stores. She wants to buy an item that she knows is available in at least one store location downtown, but the website has marked the item as unavailable and does not have an option to show what the physical stores have in stock. She had hoped at the very least the site would let her know which store to visit to purchase the item.

Not wanting to log off empty-handed, Sharon tries to use a gift card to buy something else, but the gift card only has a barcode, not a code to enter on the site. She quickly discovers that she can only use the gift card at a store.

Taking the same example with a unified commerce system

Let’s put poor Sharon in another business example that uses a unified commerce system.

When Sharon logs in, the site immediately greets her as an existing customer and her past purchases are all immediately available for viewing in her account. This time, as she tries to buy an item that is unavailable on the website, the site tells her which stores in her area have the item. There’s even an option to have the store ship the item to her. Checkout has an option to use a gift card, which she has with a code to use online. The system even reminds her that she has points she can use toward her purchase from the loyalty program.

Providing a unified brand experience across all your sales channels doesn’t just mean everything looks the same. It also means providing the same all-round access to information, the same level of personalized service, and the same seamless, high-quality experience at all times, no matter where you do business.

You can do that with a unified commerce platform.

Be as flexible as your consumers.

Suffice to say, shopping is completely different from how it looked just a few years ago, much less ten years ago. Mobile devices have practically removed the need to visit brick-and-mortar stores since everything is so easily accessible. Consumers no longer schedule shopping days when they can scroll through stores while waiting at a doctor’s office or a child’s dance lesson.

To stay top of mind with today’s consumers, you must be there during all these random shopping moments. This means your business must ensure the following:

  • Your brand pops up when customers are looking for product ideas.
  • Consumers can easily find all the information (product specs, availability, delivery, etc.) they need while they are still deciding what to purchase.
  • When customers are ready to buy, they can do it easily, no matter what channel they decide to use.

When you are using disconnected systems, it can be overly complicated to attempt any of these. Most likely, your systems will require costly integrations that may not be enough. To deliver a seamless and instant shopping experience that customers want, your systems have to seamlessly and instantly communicate. Essentially, when you are using separate systems for your e-commerce, POS, back office, and inventory, you cannot offer a large chunk of this necessary information in real time.

With a unified commerce system, all information is shared in a single database. Therefore real-time, transparent, and reliable product details are easily attainable at all times.

Easily manage returns across the channels.

Your relationship with consumers doesn’t end once there is a sale. There is always the chance that a customer will return or exchange a product. How your business handles these transactions is fundamental in cementing loyalty.

Cementing a profitable return policy

Do you make customers cut through more red tape than a government department when it comes to returning products? Or do you have a policy that customers can exchange products in your store that they bought online? Post-purchase moments such as product returns and exchanges are fundamental in cementing loyalty. Do you make people jump through hoops to return an item they didn’t like? Or do your store locations accept and exchange products bought online, no questions asked? According to UPS, 68% of shoppers check the retailer’s return policy before buying. If they don’t like, they may not buy.

The MIT Sloan Management Review compared customers who had made legitimate product returns to those who never return items. The results may surprise you. They found that people who never make product returns tend to buy less overall, and have a significantly lower lifetime profitability for retailers.

Online shoe retailer Zappos, known for its generous 365-day, free return policy, agrees with this finding. Craig Adkins, Zappos’ VP of Services and Operations, told Fast Company in an 2010 interview that the company’s “best customers have the highest returns rates but they are also the ones that spend the most money with us and are our most profitable customers.” In other words, if you have an easy and painless way for customers to return and exchange items, it will greatly increase customer loyalty.

Returns across all channels

The same UPS report linked above also says that consumers are 50/50 when it comes to preferring to return items online or in a store. As such, it’s imperative that retailers offer returns across all channels, no matter where the consumer purchased it.

Retailers using disconnected systems already know how overly complex it can be to manage returns across multiple locations and channels. For instance, if the retailer manages inventory in a separate database for each store, returning an item to a different location from where the consumer bought it can create mass confusion. Many times, these retailers don’t accept items sold at a different location.

A unified commerce system provides visibility across these channels, allowing retailers to offer the quick and flexible service consumers expect. Since such a system stores key information—customer purchase history, inventory available at stores, loyalty program data, etc.—it’s easy to accept returns at any location. The end result is hassle-free for consumers, ensuring loyalty for future purchases. In addition, it means that your business won’t have to deal with inventory confusion from a return.

And this is just THREE ways a unified commerce system can transform your retail business for the better. These three ways alone are convincing enough, but we do have three more to seal in the deal. Be on the lookout for part 2 with the rest! But if you’re already sold on these three reasons, contact us today to discover a unified commerce system that will transform your business like magic.

This publication contains general information only and Sikich is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or any other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should you use it as a basis for any decision, action or omission that may affect you or your business. Before making any decision, taking any action or omitting an action that may affect you or your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. You acknowledge that Sikich shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by you or any person who relies on this publication.

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