Be honest: your customers’ expectations are way ahead of your omnichannel capabilities.
More and more customers now expect to research, browse, try, compare, purchase and (many times) return merchandise at any time or place, using whatever payment method they wish, via whichever channel is most convenient for them, with whatever tech device is closest to them at the moment. Additionally, many do not expect to pay for traditional services like shipping, restocking, etc. And they expect all of this to be efficient, convenient, and easy—now.
Most retailers understand this conceptually and have started implementing strategies targeted at addressing this new norm in retail. Before we talk about these strategies (and their implications), let’s first take a step back and discuss the difference between the concepts of ‘omnichannel’ vs. ‘unified-commerce’—these are sometimes used interchangeably, but are in fact different.
Omnichannel defines a retail environment that aims to serve the consumer through any relevant channel, but it does not really address how that is accomplished. Unified commerce, on the other hand, takes the omnichannel concept one step further and describes an environment that utilizes a cohesive approach to serving the customer through all relevant channels via unified systems, processes, and organizations which are designed and optimized to have all functions focused on satisfying customer needs across the multiple channels—in a highly integrated and optimized way.
When considering the newer and much deeper concept of unified commerce, the focus should be on the term ‘unified’ and how it differentiates this strategy from the more traditional omnichannel concept that has been used for years.
The omnichannel mindset, combined with changes in consumer expectations and desires—along with the ubiquity of smart phones and other personal technologies—has led to several unintended consequences that must be evaluated and resolved when considering embarking on a unified commerce go-to-market strategy. We’ll explore some of these considerations and some of the questions that must be answered in order to design an environment that ultimately satisfies the new consumer expectations profitably while also enabling efficient operations and acceptable ROIs.
In omnichannel businesses, we see a laser-like focus on implementing the latest e-commerce bells and whistles while other vital areas like planning, supply chain, and store operations are left to quickly “figure it out.” Can a retailer really be “unified commerce ready” if it under-invests, or worse, ignores the existing critical operational components that literally define the environment in which the retailer interacts with the consumer daily, regardless of which channel the sale originated in? Aligning (and unifying) your merchandising, planning, supply chain, and store operations capabilities and processes across an integrated systems architecture which leverages purpose-created master data is the only way to ensure that the omnichannel environment can morph into unified commerce.
The movement towards unified commerce should start with a thorough capabilities and systems assessment that identifies enhancements to the core merchandising, planning, POS, order management, and e-commerce systems that enable and support many of the tried and true unified commerce capabilities like direct ship, buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), buy-online-return-in-store (BORIS), buy-online-ship-to-store (BOSTS), or endless aisle. Aside from obvious system enhancements, this migration often results in vital process, organizational, and master data changes required to support and operate within this new paradigm as well. This latter set of modifications should be expected with any major transformation.
Parker Avery believes that a unified commerce strategy moves well beyond an integrated system architecture (albeit critically important in its own right) and a set of updated processes that support the systems, to a more holistic unification of all relevant functional areas that contribute and directly impact the retailers’ ability to reach and transact with customers efficiently across any variation of relevant sales channels. We work every day with retailers to help them become more unified by enabling tighter collaboration between merchandising, supply chain, store operations, and e-commerce functions by leveraging a system architecture, processes, and structure designed to facilitate omnichannel—and ultimately unified commerce operations.
Two of the most often overlooked functional areas that are directly impacted by the move to unified commerce is the readiness and capabilities of a retailer’s supply chain as well as its brick-and-mortar store operations. In future posts, we’ll dive deeper into the key questions that any retailer should consider for both critical functional areas.