TECHNOLOGY

Tech Bytes: Note to retailers: Time to make the shift to unified commerce

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

It happens all the time. A customer goes on a shopping spree, gets home and checks email — only to find a valuable promotion for a store she just left. In an era when time-starved customers are more digitally-savvy than ever before, retailers need to step up and manage a brand in total versus managing separate channels, if they want to maintain loyalty.

Shoppers expect a complete brand experience, not disjointed channel visits. They need to be able to channel hop and see the exact same thing. As brands strive for a holistic customer experience, they need a centralized, real-time platform that merges all customer engagement points, including point-of-sale (POS), mobile, e-commerce, call centers and clienteling solutions, to stay abreast of all customer interactions throughout the path-to-purchase. Enter the unified commerce business model.

While it remains an evolving concept, there is early movement. Currently, 18% of retailers have a unified commerce/single commerce platform, according to “Unified Commerce is the Goal, ‘Faux Omnichannel Retail is the Reality!,” a new report from Boston Retail Partners. However, two-thirds of these companies indicated that their efforts “need improvement.” And no company is immune to the growing pains.

This became very evident to me while back-to-school shopping with my girls. Following a two-hour, $112 jaunt to a popular tween specialty retailer, less than 24 hours later I received an email for $10 off of a $30 order. I immediately called the company’s service center to rectify the situation. Not only couldn’t the agent help me, she could only access online orders — not store-specific transactions. Then she suggested that I call the store directly. From here, the situation only got worse, as the store associate couldn’t access my transaction via my loyalty account number or my private label credit card account.

Annoyed, I made a special trip to the store. The manager found the transaction, but the brand’s POS system didn't have the functionality needed to adjust the order. How did she make up for the inconvenience? She gave me a coupon for $15 off of my next order.

While the discount was appreciated, it begs the question: Why aren’t omnichannel touch points or loyalty-based credit card systems integrated to monitor my points of purchase, and save me the anger of receiving a promotion after-the-fact?

In the era of unified commerce, retailers need to walk the walk if they plan to talk the talk. Too many brands have pieced together processes with makeshift Band-Aids, and these flawed solutions are failing to keep up with customer expectations. To make the move to unified commerce companies should:

  • Break down the walls that separate physical and digital channels.
  • Integrate mobile data into omnichannel experience.
  • Add a unified commerce platform to merge all customer touch points.
  • Maintain customer profiles from a brand — not channel — perspective.
  • Monitor the customer’s path-to-purchase as closely as possible to deliver relevant communications at optimal time frames to drive sales.

The message consumers are sending is clear: know when we are interacting and making purchases with your brand, and reward us accordingly. This requires a holistic view of the shopper from exploration to purchase. Retailers able to eliminate operational silos and deliver a truly unified presence aligned with their consumers’ shopping behaviors and expectations will earn long-term customer loyalty — and their wallet-share.

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