What is Unified Commerce and Why You Need it in Your Retail Business?
From Point of Sale (POS) to e-commerce, from CRM to inventory management, many retailers employ a patchwork of disconnected business applications to run their business. These software systems are often custom integrated or even homegrown, and as a consequence, they cannot communicate seamlessly with each other. As a result, retailers are left unable to deliver the personalised, omni-channel experience customers expect wherever and whenever they decide to shop.
Today’s retailers are collecting an unprecedented amount of data throughout their various touch-points, from e-commerce site, to loyalty program, to Point of Sale, and more. In order to deliver personalised communications and offers, retailers need their software systems to give them the ability to organise all their data, analyse it, transform it into meaningful insights, which should then be delivered to various stakeholders across the business.
In other words, retailers must abandon the disconnected business applications that they are currently using, and which make them unable to see who their customers are, to follow what is going on in their business, and to deliver seamless experiences.
In their place, they must adopt unified commerce systems.
Enter Unified Commerce
Unified commerce combines in one platform e-commerce, m-commerce, order fulfilment, inventory management, customer relationship management, Point of Sale (POS) capabilities – and much more.
In the words of Brian Brunk, Principal at retail industry consulting firm Boston Retail Partners (BRP), “unified commerce goes beyond omni-channel, putting the customer experience first, breaking down the walls between internal channel silos and leveraging a common commerce platform.”
Here are eight ways a unified commerce platform will make your life easier – and support your business growth.
1. You don’t need to spend time and money on integrations
When you use a separate system to manage your sales, another one to handle vendors, a third one for the e-commerce site – and so on, setting up (and maintaining!) seamless communication between the different platforms can become a problem.
Integrating separate systems requires finding experts who are familiar with all the software solutions involved. Which can be tough. Often, you will end up having to hire multiple people, each expert in one of the systems, and hope that they understand each other and can figure out a working interface. And when you have to perform an upgrade – or if something breaks down? Restart and repeat. Needless to say, this can be lengthy – and costly.
When you use a unified system, you reduce costs (and time) involved across all the phases – from implementation, to maintenance and upgrades.
2. You reduce the risk of errors
When you are using separate systems, any delay in communication between them can cause your data to get out of sync. As a consequence, you may end up selling an item on your website when you don’t have it in stock anymore; or advertising the wrong price for an item. All mistakes which may lose you revenue, or even customers.
When you use a single system for your whole business, all information – from prices, to product availability, to item description – is maintained in a single database, and then distributed to different touchpoints. This way you don’t run the risk of discrepancies or mismatches across channels.
3. You get a single version of the truth
When the whole enterprise – distribution centres, e-commerce sites, stores, HQ – runs on one platform, all departments are able to access, and operate on, the same data. A centralised database, storing information in a consistent and non-redundant form, guarantees a single version of the truth. Using this consistent, reliable information, businesses can simplify their financial reporting, better track their KPIs, analyse performance of products and promotions, and take decisions that will benefit the business faster and more confidently.
4. Staff training is quicker
With multiple systems in use, onboarding new staff can be lengthy. A multitude of software solutions also means that you can’t easily move employees across departments, as they will have to be instructed on a new system every time.
Take Blue Mountain, the largest ski resort in Ontario, Canada. To run its operations, which range from catering, to retail stores, to rentals, to restaurants, hotels and more, Blue Mountain used to deploy 26 different systems. Every single type of operation had its own system. As a result, when employees were moved from one role to another, they had to be re-trained – which meant that a temporary change of functions was impractical and unprofitable for the company.
A few years ago, Blue Mountain binned its 26 systems, and implemented a unified commerce platform – LS Nav. Fast forward to today. Employees only have to be taught to use one system, and can easily be moved around to different divisions. As a result, Blue Mountain has reduced its training costs, and the company can now move people across stations quickly, as needed.
5. Management gets real-time, accurate information
When a single platform is used across the business, HQ gets a total overview of its processes, from sales to purchasing, to allocation, to pricing and warehouse management. This real-time visibility gives management the ability to act quickly if needed.
Take Club 21, the company that runs the Armani Exchange stores in the UK. When they needed a new system, they went for a unified solution. The benefits were quickly apparent. Clare Vella, retail director of the chain, told us how LS Nav helped them successfully handle their first big Black Friday sale. “It was 10:00 at night on a Friday night, and I was at home. I checked our sales, and I just saw an incredible amount of sales going through our Liverpool regional store. I managed to call the warehouse to get them to come in on a Saturday morning to replenish the store, and get an emergency delivery to that store for the next day. Now, with our old system we would never have had that visibility. The store manager probably would have called me and said I’m desperate for stuff. But with the solution from LS Retail, we were able to respond really quickly. As the sales were coming in hour by hour, we had people on standby to start picking and pulling the stock. This is what we call doing things in real-time.”
6. You can offer a true omni-channel experience
Customers don’t care about channels. What they want is a seamless shopping experience and accurate, consistent information and services, no matter whether they buy online or in your physical stores.
Shoppers want to be able to check inventory availability across stores; they want to click & collect; to order an out-of-stock item in your stores, and have it delivered at home; to return in-store an item purchased online; and so on.
A unified commerce platform enables you to offer all this, and more. By uniting all channels under the same platform, you can not only keep track of everything that is going on in your business; you can also allow customers to start, stop, continue and finish their shopping journey as they prefer, with no hitches or disconnects.
7. You get a 360-degree view of your customers
Traditionally, in retail chains each store location uploads files to the head office at the end of day. With this kind of setup, missing or incomplete customer information is a common problem. To make things even worse, some companies don’t maintain an integrated customer database, and client information (sales per client, payments, etc.) is stored in separate systems, leading to duplicate records and inability to serve customers properly.
By storing all the information in a single database and allowing associates in different locations to access it in real time, retailers can derive greater value from their data. For example, they can understand what their customer base is buying and where, and what promotions and prices they are receiving. By connecting and analysing consumer habits, they get a 360-degree view of the consumer, which can be used to create more effective loyalty programs, and offer personalised recommendations and to-the-point promotions – in other words, to design more effective and engaging customer experiences.
8. You only need to work with one vendor
When you use multiple systems, you will inevitably have to deal with separate vendors – a factor which can complicate and delay the project.
Selecting a unified platform means that you can take care of the whole process with a single vendor. Assuming you have chosen the right company (someone who knows your industry, understands your needs, and communicates effectively with you), dealing with one vendor instead of multiple ones can decrease complexity – and overall costs. Just make sure you select a trustworthy vendor, who will be there for you in the future, providing you with support and updates when you need them.
Omni-channel is yesterday’s news, and retailers have realised it. In the words of Ken Morris, partner and co-founder of consulting firm Boston Retail Partners, “In omnichannel, you have multiple channels, but you don’t have one piece of software, one version of the truth: you have many versions of the truth. In the unified commerce world, it’s all connected in real time… That’s why this unified commerce experience will be the way people go in the future.”
A recent BRP survey revealed that 85 percent of retailers see creating a true unified commerce environment as their top priority. The main functions retailers are interested in are:
Visibility over inventory and orders across channels. Less than a third of retailers can do this today; 90 percent of retailers plan to offer it within 3 years.
Ability to reserve inventory and do special orders across channels. Just two out of 5 retailers can do it today; 82 percent of retailers want to be able to do it within 3 years.
Ability to “buy anywhere, ship anywhere” across the sales channels.
Unified commerce helps overcome today’s challenges to deliver tomorrow’s retail, enabling businesses to deliver the fluid retail experience that customers expect.
Contact us to discover how LS Nav, our unified commerce retail platform, can help you deliver the customer experience of tomorrow.
Article Credit: Giada Pezzini, LS Retail
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