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The Case for Unified Commerce
Leading retailers are going beyond omnichannel to improve customer experience
For the rest of the March 2017 issue of CRM magazine please click here

In light of a revamped customer-first focus, which is being driven primarily by mobile technological innovations, companies are planning to increase their investments in unified shopping across a single platform, according to research from Boston Retail Partners (BRP).

BRP anticipates significant ramp-up in the next two to three years and a movement beyond early adoption into the mainstream. It found that 71 percent of companies are planning to install such a platform within the next three years.

Retailers are becoming more cognizant of the fact that customers expect personalized and secure interactions in the channels, environments, and times that are most convenient for them, the firm noted following its 2017 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey.

In many cases, rising customer standards are driving requirements to integrate physical and digital retailing, says Brian Brunk, principal at BRP.

And, “in the past year, retailers’ capabilities have improved for personalization, suggested selling, and cross-channel ordering and pickup,” Brunk points out. “This demonstrates the focus retailers are putting on delivering true cross-channel, or unified commerce, capabilities.”

Unified commerce extends beyond what is often referred to simply as an “omnichannel” approach and puts the customer experience first while dissolving the barriers between internal channel silos, Brunk explains. “A common, centralized, real-time platform for all customer engagement points is a key tenet of unified commerce,” he emphasizes.

Such an approach is not simply the future of in-store or web platforms but combines in-store point-of-sale, mobile, web, order management, call center, and clientele functions into one environment. It provides “a single version of the truth across all channels to enable real-time visibility and availability of accurate inventory and customer information,” Brunk says.

These systems also do away with integration issues and allow for consistent, relevant interactions across touch points and, ultimately, a better experience.

According to Brunk, many big box retailers, including Best Buy, Target, Macy’s, and The Home Depot, have already made great strides in delivering cross-channel and omnichannel capabilities.

One retailer that particularly stands out, though, is Burberry. The British luxury clothing brand’s social media platforms extend beyond Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to include China’s WeChat and Japan’s Line platforms. In addition to an improved mobile site and universal payment methods, Burberry also offers click-and-collect-in-store services and is experimenting with e-commerce order fulfillment both in local distribution centers and in stores to improve availability and reduce delivery times.

From a mobile CRM and omnichannel perspective, Panera Bread has been another innovator, with its integrated mobile/kiosk/in-store ordering, pickup, and table delivery capabilities. The company has “set an example of what is possible when technology and customer experience is done well,” Brunk says.

But widespread traction for unified commerce “has been hard because it can be daunting to take on an enterprise initiative when financial and organizational resources are already stretched thin,” Brunk says. “That is why we believe there will be much more of a push for unified commerce deployment as a cloud-based SaaS offering.”

And while implementations have been slow, the market is also maturing. At the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York in January (see our coverage of the show on page 18), a number of CRM industry stalwarts, including Adobe and Salesforce.com, released technologies that aim to address just this need.

Adobe’s Commercetools, available on its Marketing Cloud, aims, among other things, to “create shoppable experiences across connected mirrors, mobile and social channels, and any kind of digital content,” wrote Michael Klein, director of industry strategy at Adobe Marketing Cloud, in a blog post.

Also in a blog post, Gordon Evans, vice president of marketing at Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud, wrote that his company’s Commerce Cloud platform “enables brands to extend commerce to multiple channels, all united by a central (and centrally managed) commerce platform.”

“Regardless of the challenges, unified commerce remains a strategic imperative. Winners and losers will be decided around who gets it right, and time is quickly running short,” Brunk says.

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