Digital transformation in retail: From omnichannel to unified commerce

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Prior to, and even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic, retailers globally have felt the impacts of shifts in consumer behaviors and subsequently, the profitability of physical venues has become a large issue for the sector.

Additionally, ethical expectations from consumers have created a need for businesses to implement ESG Strategies (that focus on environmental, social, and governance factors) to ensure that sustainability, of all aspects, is deemed important to your organization.

In this blog, we’re going to cover the main differences between omnichannel retail and the £2.6 trillion opportunity of unified commerce, and the steps retailers can take to make the most of digital transformation to fulfill the new consumer journey that can once again optimize the performance of physical stores.

What’s the difference? Omnichannel vs Unified Commerce

While you’d be correct in assuming these two solutions are linked, their principles can be vastly different and produce varying results.

What is omnichannel marketing?

Omnichannel marketing is the combination of all channels used to interact with consumers that can create seamless experiences and reinforce brand loyalty.

The most common example of creating a seamless consumer experience would be the combination of online and offline touchpoints. The ability for consumers to make a purchase online via web or mobile order and then have the option to “pick up in-store” is a great way to leverage omnichannel.

What is unified commerce?

An insightful hub of knowledge for businesses, unified commerce is the connection of back-office applications with the consumer-facing systems used in omnichannel marketing in a single platform for a holistic view of customer interactions, and product-specific sales performance, as well as management systems.

The data insights available to retailers that take advantage of unified commerce can result in better-informed business decisions, increased accuracy in forecasting future performance, and ultimately better customer experiences in all regions.

What are the building blocks of unified commerce?

A strong foundation

In order for unified commerce to work there first has to be a strong foundation that allows for all consumer-facing and back-office systems to easily integrate and share information. Additionally, a strong unified platform will be able to adapt to business growth and the addition of new systems as larger data sets are collected and evaluated.

Product management channels

The aim of these channels is to increase the seamlessness of the consumer journey, however, product management and inventory management tools alike can provide expected product demand and sales forecasts which can allow retailers to better plan marketing efforts.

Commercial channels

Achieving a holistic view of all sales-related channels such as eCommerce, partner channels, physical store locations, etc is the ultimate goal to identify revenue trends and assess which sources perform the best. Further insights allow businesses to understand just how decisions such as offline offers can affect eCommerce performance and visa-versa.

Retailers that have already adopted an omnichannel approach are already a step ahead of the competition.

Consumer-facing channels

There are a lot of solutions used by retailers which act as touchpoints in the consumer journey. The reason for this is to meet consumer expectations such as the speed of service, personalization, convenience, and consistency with their interactions.

Through the high-level view of the consumer journey provided by unified commerce, retailers are able to build incredibly detailed behavioral insights into what does and doesn’t work well, as well as optimize the journey to make it more seamless. 

For example, eCommerce sites that provide the ability for a one-click purchase (such as Amazon) remove the necessity of entering payment details for every purchase and encourage future purchases through a quick checkout.

How can CIOs & CMOs optimize retail processes?

A number of articles recently have been discussing how connected devices are helping retailers with operations. As cost remains at the forefront of C-level retail execs, operational efficiency is becoming more of a focus area.

With key objectives around shopper decisions, movement, and insight – WiFi can play an important role in enabling store ops to improve in a number of areas such as:

  • Busy times of the day week for resource planning
  • Surveys to understand shopper decision making
  • Linking to loyalty to understand local requirements for inventory

In order to achieve the best strategy to optimize the retail process and begin the journey to unified commerce, it’s crucial for C-level execs to take the 3 following points into account:

1. Find the right platform that easily connects all systems, channels, and touchpoints

As we covered, the main purpose of a unified commerce platform is to create a process that streamlines the flow and reporting of information through a centralized platform, and finding the right one is just as crucial as making the decision to implement a new strategy.

For Chief Information Officers, ensuring this platform is able to connect with all crucial systems should be focus number one. However, growth over time shouldn’t be a second thought. Finding the right platform from the start will set the business up for future success and allow them to adapt to new data systems and channels easily.

Chief Marketing Officers should look to platforms that can easily correlate relevant data sets, allowing them to continue highlighting key areas of improvement across the retail process. Finding a platform that can easily adapt to ever-changing processes and data inputs will allow for the most informed business decisions.

2. Embrace digital IoT solutions, don’t get left behind

The presence of ‘Internet of Things’ solutions has been rapidly growing over the past decade as retailers have come to understand that more information can be gathered about processes, consumers, and influences, allowing for smarter and more strategic planning.

The greatest understanding of this came from the rise of eCommerce and social media, however now that attention draws back to the main street and the profitability of physical venues, retail businesses must get ahead of the adoption curve.

For both CIOs and, CMOs filling in the blanks of data collection is the second step in painting a full picture of the retail process. See how Purple can help with this later in the blog!

3. Fulfilling consumer needs, personalized experiences, and influential engagement

Last in this list and primarily for CMOs, once the black holes of data are filled to create a whole picture of the customer journey, the next step in the path to unified commerce is to ensure that all customer touchpoints are providing the best experience possible both online and offline.

Due to the rise of eCommerce and personalized marketing communications, consumers expect to be contacted with personalized messages from all retailers promoting their latest offers and product which are relevant to each consumer. The rising interest in main street stores however is creating a unique opportunity for businesses to diversify the way in which staff engages visitors and personalize experiences.

The additional use of a centralized platform would allow in-house staff to tailor experiences just as online suggestions and promotions would. With real-time and personalized pricing strategies, consumers can grab bargains before others that are tailored for them, increasing the average basket size and store profitability.

4. A bonus point!

As we mentioned at the beginning, the trillion-dollar opportunity unified commerce presents don’t only lie in online or offline worlds, but in the ability to understand and report on the performance of every source which affects revenue and the customer journey.

According to the National Retail Foundation, in 2020 retailers saw $428 billion worth of consumer goods returned with an estimated $253 billion coming as a result of fraudulent purchases. By having a unified commerce strategy in place these revenue insights stock level tracking, and other management systems, retailers will be able to better understand the whole performance of their business.

From omnichannel to unified commerce – filling in the blanks with WiFi and analytics

WiFi could become a key data point to help operational efficiency across stores and regional teams, at a time when they need it the most.

On top of this, information captured about customers can allow retailers to understand potential buying behavior or attitudinal behavior – at the store, or cluster level. This insight could be fed into Category Management processes, in order to ensure assortments are created to meet the needs of the local customer and reduce potential shrink or inventory challenges.

WiFi could be positioned as a new tool in the digital marketers’ portfolio, allowing rich data capture at the point of purchase.

Purple’s guest WiFi solution provides retailers and other organizations with a whole new level of knowledge-gathering potential. In point 2 of optimizing the retail process we spoke about the need to fill in the blanks of data collection and our solution is able to provide great amounts of first-hand customer data in return for access to your existing free WiFi network.

Retailers today are able to collect and leverage their consumer data in online environments, however, in offline physical spaces, knowledge of who consumers are doesn’t come close. With Purple, businesses can achieve the same in-depth insights by evolving their venue into an intelligent space.

The Purple platform provides retailers with the ability to take collected data and use it to directly market back to consumers through emails, SMS, or even a personalized access journey the next time they visit a store. In addition to this Purple’s WiFi solution can connect to other data sets meaning targeted marketing can become incredibly granular to meet the needs and expectations of your customers.

In conclusion, you don’t want to miss out!

What has seemed like an inevitable change, digital adoption is finally at the breaking point for retail businesses. With changes in customer expectations and the growing need for c-suite executives to streamline information sharing, retail businesses globally mustn’t miss their opportunity to optimize processes and capture new customer loyalty.

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