A recent study by Boston Retail Partners found that unified commerce is one of the fastest growing priorities and capabilities for retailers moving forward. In fact, although only 9% of retailers claimed the deployment of a single unified commerce platform for store, mobile and web commerce in 2017, that number is already up to 28% in 2018. By 2020, a whopping 81% of retailers expect to manage all of their sales channels through a single platform. Let's explore why unified commerce is set to disrupt the status quo of retailer-customer relationships and why product content management success will be a key indicator of whether these initiatives succeed or fail.
Multi-channel hasn't prepared retailers for unified commerce
Over the past few years, many retailers have become quite good at multi-channel retailing, establishing ecommerce platforms that complement in-store experiences and strengthen consumer relationships with the retailer by making it easier to access and engage with their brand. In many cases, although these platforms have not been fully integrated with their brick- and-mortar infrastructure, they have managed just fine by operating in isolation from one another, creating two parts of one business.
In contrast, to achieve unified commerce within just a two-to-three-year window, retailers must completely integrate all disparate enterprise systems into a single platform. The primary challenge will be meeting and overcoming the obstacles that come with channel convergence, such as duplicate and contradictory data, disparate workflows, multiple applications for managing processes and technical teams untrained in new systems. Ultimately, retail winners will cut through the confusion by emphasizing the integration of product workflows and consistent dissemination of product content across sales channels as their first priority.
Engaging and personalized customer experiences
The single most important element of any unified commerce strategy is also the basis for its emergence as a leading priority among retail organizations: a seamless, rewarding customer experience. Why it matters has been detailed in great depth elsewhere, but how to achieve it is a more complex dilemma, especially once we consider that the definition of a "good experience" has evolved to include personalized engagement.
These new customer expectations require that retailers track and understand their customer needs and then act on them in real-time. From a retailer perspective, it's easy to get caught up considering how personalized, targeted advertising or hyper-dynamic pricing concepts can attract and retain more customers, but at the end of the day the impact of supplying exactly the item that meets their requirements and preferences can't be overstated.
In today's on-demand, endless shelf retail environment, shoppers won't wait around for a retailer to stock a product they want or settle for a 'close-enough' alternative. Retailers can't risk slow product development or replenishment cycles, poor inventory visibility or sales channels listing incomplete product information in the name of moving quickly. To create true a unified commerce experience, retailers need to ensure that every channel and every touchpoint feels as if it's the only one the relationship is built on.
Seamless experiences across channels
To do so, retailers need to ensure that not only do consumers have access to all the same products, branding, fulfillment options, search functions, etc., they also need to have all the same product information available to help them pick out the right items for their specific needs. Retailers pushing for a unified commerce system need to prioritize the development of product content management systems that ensure the same images, product specifications - e.g. color, size, power, material, flavor - are available to a mobile shopper as it would be to an in-store or ecommerce shopper. Without that key information, shoppers may not feel comfortable that they're ordering what they want and abandon the sale.
Smarter merchandising driven by unified forecasting
One of the key benefits of integrating all commerce channels is the ability to leverage insights from each channel and customer engagement to create more accurate and valuable product forecasting in real-time. By incorporating systems with machine learning capabilities, retailers can create a 360-degree view of demand trends and predict likely outcomes. When combined with powerful automated product development workflows to limit mistakes and improve time-to-market, unified commerce systems create smarter assortments that are also more capable of meeting consumer needs as they evolve, not in response to them.
Unified commerce winners will be experts in analyzing and managing product information
As retailers migrate en masse to unified commerce platforms that ensure their customers are rewarded with the same personalized and engaging experiences no matter how they choose to shop, they must consider the role of systems that automate product content delivery across channels. There is no room for error when it comes to managing products or customer relationships, but fortunately, next generation product information systems have the power to make the evolution from multi-channel retailing to unified commerce a less complex, more rewarding one for both retailers and their customers.
About the Author: Abnesh Raina is the founder and CEO of PlumSlice Labs, a leading cloud software company with enterprise grade PIM and other solutions for retail and distributors to plan, buy and sell smarter.