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Defining unified commerce vs omnichannel commerce

Feb 08, 2024 - Alyssa Wolfe
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Omnichannel commerce was born in the 2000s as a response to retailers’ siloed digital and physical operations. These separated commerce channels resulted in disconnected marketing, sales and fulfillment. While unintentional, retailers soon began to understand how this divide would eventually affect the business negatively – and aimed to align and connect business units.

Fast-forward to today: Unified commerce is an emerging methodology. And given the rapidly changing retail ecosystem, it’s a strategy worth exploring. However, it’s easy to feel confused about what it is and how it relates to omnichannel commerce.

The concept of multiple channels (multichannel commerce) began when retailers moved to listing and selling items in more than one channel – for example, in-store and online. However, multichannel was often siloed. Channels didn’t integrate. As retail evolved and customers demanded a more cohesive experience, the focus shifted toward omnichannel retail, which aimed to create an integrated and consistent experience across the customer journey. Now, brands are looking toward the future and unified commerce, which takes omnichannel commerce to the next level. This article will define unified commerce vs omnichannel and outline where they fit into your commerce strategies and operations.

What is omnichannel commerce?

Omnichannel commerce is an integrated approach to retail that gives customers a more cohesive shopping experience across multiple channels, including online platforms, mobile apps, brick-and-mortar stores, social media and more. It allows customers to interact with a brand through various touchpoints and transition seamlessly between channels while experiencing consistency in product offerings, pricing, promotions and customer experience. The goal of omnichannel commerce is to improve customer convenience, satisfaction and loyalty by meeting consumer needs and preferences across channels.

Omnichannel differs from multichannel in that it is more customer-centric. Essentially, multichannel offers multiple ways for customers to connect, but not necessarily by integrating channels or focusing on cohesiveness. Omnichannel works to provide a consistent multichannel experience and increase convenience and personalize the customer journey to foster greater engagement.

What is unified commerce?

Unified commerce is a comprehensive and holistic approach to retail, seamlessly fusing all channels and touchpoints to deliver a consistent shopping journey for customers. Its central goal is to better understand the customer journey to maximize retention and build brand loyalty. By breaking down barriers between online and offline channels, merging the physical and digital, so retailers can offer a frictionless path from discovery to purchase across various platforms. It focuses on crafting personalized experiences that enhance customer satisfaction and drive business growth.

But it doesn't stop there. Unified commerce provides a robust view of consumers on the backend while helping develop cohesive experiences on the frontend, regardless of the purchasing journey. By consolidating channels and data into a central source, brands can create dynamic customer-centric shopping experiences. This centralization may not be a singular solution, but a highly integrated stack of technology that acts as one platform: In other words, it unifies solutions, eliminating the more discordant tech stacks that offer fragmented data and replacing it with one with strong and streamlined interconnection.

Unified commerce goes beyond omnichannel commerce, serving as the ultimate tool to unify solutions and create cohesive customer experiences that drive customer retention and loyalty.

The need for unified commerce

Investment into the customer experience is critical for growth. However, according to Forrester, customer experience (CX) quality fell for 19% of brands in 2022, the lowest rate in 17 years. Additionally, only 3% of US companies were customer-obsessed, a decrease of 7% from 2021.

And yet customers are making their demand for a good customer experience crystal clear. CX Index reported that customer-centric brands report profits that are 60% higher than those that fail to focus on CX. Consumers are also willing to shop somewhere else: Emplifi found that 49% of customers who left a brand to which they’d been loyal in the past 12 months say it’s due to poor CX.

Omnichannel commerce posed some challenges for customer experience. Primarily, brands struggled to integrate disparate systems and technologies and ensure consistent branding and customer experience across channels. Businesses also struggled to manage inventory and fulfillment effectively. They weren’t always able to address data privacy and security concerns or adapt to changing customer expectations and behaviors swiftly. In other words, maintaining seamless communication and coordination between online and offline channels presented logistical and operational hurdles for brands working to implement omnichannel strategies.

Unified commerce aims to improve on omnichannel commerce by integrating all channels and touchpoints into a single, cohesive platform. Unlike omnichannel, which focuses on providing a consistent experience across multiple channels, unified commerce consolidates these channels into a centralized platform. This approach allows for a holistic view of customer interactions and enables brands to deliver truly seamless, personalized experiences regardless of the channel or touchpoint.

How unified commerce transcends omnichannel commerce

Unified commerce works to remove the omnichannel barriers. This means removing siloed data and improving the quality of data. It’s about gaining better analytics across channels and being able to identify customers throughout their shopping journeys. Its ability to create a single source of truth makes it valuable strategy. With omnichannel commerce, you have multiple channels but not a singular software. In the unified commerce philosophy, you gain a sole source with real-time visibility.

Brands that adopt a unified commerce architecture are better able to fulfill the promise and efficiencies envisioned for omnichannel retail. They gain a centralized, real-time platform for all customer touchpoints. Moreover, these modern platforms leverage open integration standards and microservices technology and enable a more agile scaling and rapid addition of capabilities compared to traditional legacy systems.

Retailers embracing unified commerce can effectively address key customer experience challenges, including delivering relevant shopping experiences, enabling retail self-service and facilitating flexible fulfillment options. This approach empowers businesses to meet evolving consumer expectations while driving growth and gaining a competitive advantage.

How to use unified commerce to become more customer-centric

When brands consolidate customer data from various channels into a single source of truth (a highly compatible tech stack), it provides a comprehensive understanding of customer preferences, behaviors and purchase history. This allows businesses to achieve:

Efficient processes

Customer are looking for a seamless shopping experience and don’t want friction if they move between channels. To ensure this happens, brands must be able to create efficient processes across channels, whether marketing or managing inventory. Real-time visibility becomes critical, whether a customer is online or offline, in-store or on social media or returning an online purchase in-store. Unified commerce gives you the interconnectivity to support this type of movement.

Accurate data with robust visibility

Unified commerce provides better data by consolidating information from various channels and touchpoints into a centralized platform. This includes data on customer interactions, transactions, preferences and behaviors gathered from online platforms, mobile apps, brick-and-mortar stores, social media and more. By integrating disparate data sources, businesses gain a comprehensive and holistic view of each customer's journey and engagement with the brand.

Additionally, brands can leverage advanced analytics tools and techniques to process and analyze vast amounts of data in real-time. Through the use of predictive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), businesses can uncover valuable insights into customer trends, preferences and purchasing patterns. These insights enable businesses to make data-driven decisions, such as optimizing marketing strategies, improving product assortments and enhancing customer service.

Unified commerce lets businesses track and measure key performance indicators (KPIs) across all channels as well, allowing for better monitoring of sales performance, inventory levels and customer satisfaction metrics. This comprehensive data visibility empowers businesses to identify opportunities for growth, mitigate risks and continuously improve the customer experience across all touchpoints. Ultimately, unified commerce provides businesses with richer, more actionable data that drives strategic decision-making.

It can also do things such as:

  • Enable targeted marketing campaigns and personalized product recommendations.
  • Facilitate tailored promotions and offers.
  • Ensure efficient order fulfillment and customer service.
  • Offer a personalized shopping experience across all channels and touchpoints.
  • Meet the unique needs of individual customers, fostering loyalty.

Unified commerce effectively empowers businesses to become more customer-centric, allowing them to prioritize and meet the unique needs of individual customers.

What is a unified commerce platform

Retailers often piece together software systems to run their business. This includes marketing software, customer data platforms, commerce solutions, OMS (order management systems) and WMS (warehouse management systems), POS, content management systems and more. The multiple software solutions collect large amounts of data – and when systems are unable to integrate, it makes it harder to organize, analyze and transform data in a usable way. Moreover, personalizing becomes harder as does gaining real-time insights.

A robust end-to-end customer experience relies on your ability to provide rich, targeted support, information and services. A unified commerce platform allows you to do that. It integrates channels and touchpoints into a cohesive and consistent journey and offers:

  • Unified customer data: By consolidating customer data from various sources into a centralized hub, the platform provides a comprehensive view of each customer.
  • Personalized engagement: With access to rich customer data, businesses can deliver personalized experiences tailored to individual preferences, including targeted marketing campaigns, product recommendations and promotions.
  • Seamless transactions: The platform facilitates seamless transactions by allowing customers to browse, purchase and fulfill orders through any channel, whether online, mobile or in-store.
  • Consistent brand experience: Customers receive a consistent brand experience throughout all touchpoints, ensuring continuity and coherence in messaging, branding and service delivery.
  • Efficient operations: From order management to inventory tracking and fulfillment, a unified platform streamlines internal processes, enabling businesses to deliver products and services to customers more efficiently and accurately.
  • Real-time insights: A unified commerce platform provides real-time visibility into customer interactions and transaction data, letting businesses monitor performance, identify trends and make informed decisions that enhance the customer experience.

Overall, a unified commerce platform ensures that every step of the customer journey is frictionless, personalized and aligned with a brand's objectives.

Unified commerce in fulfillment

Unified commerce enhances fulfillment by streamlining processes and providing greater visibility and control over inventory and order management. Here's how:

Centralized inventory management

Consolidate inventory data from all channels into a single platform, allowing businesses to track stock levels, locations and movements in real-time. This centralized view prevents stockouts and overstock situations and optimizes inventory levels for efficient and accurate fulfillment.

Omnichannel order management

Process orders from various channels through a single system. This allows for more efficient order routing, picking, packing and shipping, regardless of the customer's purchase channel.

Flexible fulfillment options

Offer customers flexible fulfillment options, such as buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), ship from store or curbside pickup. This flexibility improves customer convenience and satisfaction while optimizing inventory utilization across the entire retail network.

Real-time visibility

Gain real-time visibility into order statuses, shipment tracking and inventory availability across all fulfillment locations. This visibility helps businesses proactively manage orders, resolve issues quickly and provide accurate delivery estimates to customers.

Scalability and adaptability

Unified commerce platforms are designed to scale and adapt to changing business needs and customer demands. Whether expanding into new markets, launching new products or implementing seasonal promotions, businesses can easily adjust fulfillment processes to accommodate growth and changes in demand.

Overall, unified commerce empowers businesses to deliver faster, more accurately and offer more flexible fulfillment experiences that meet the evolving expectations of today's consumers.

Cart.com is unified commerce

As the customer experience and journey becomes more important for brands in their mission to delight, retain, foster loyalty and drive growth, adopting unified commerce approach becomes critical. At Cart.com, we believe both digital and physical (software and fulfillment) are needed to execute unified commerce well. 

Cart.com is the leading provider of unified commerce and logistics solutions that enable B2C and B2B companies to sell and fulfill anywhere their customers are. The company’s enterprise-grade software, services and logistics infrastructure, including its own network of fulfillment and distribution centers, are used by some of the world’s most beloved brands and most complex companies to unify commerce operations across channels and drive more efficient growth. Contact us today to learn how Cart.com can help you.

 

 

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