Today’s retail customer wants a seamless experience, with “start anywhere, finish anywhere” shopping, as well as a consistent experience across all devices and transparency of the retailer’s inventory. Being notified of pertinent sales and events – whether shopping in a store or on the retailer’s website – is also a plus.
Retailers need an easy-to-use technological solution that ties sales to inventory and fulfillment across channels, and gathers data on customer preferences and behaviors. This type of technology can streamline the way a business works while creating a foundation for personalized messaging and sales campaigns. “Unified commerce” is the underlying technology that promises to deliver just that.
What Is Unified Commerce?
With unified commerce, a retailer can use a single solution to provide every facet of the retail process – sales transactions, inventory and order management, fulfillment – while also tied into customer information management, social media and more. Each part of the system works with all others, providing efficient overall management and reporting capabilities.
Small retailers are looking at NetSuite, GoECart, Mozu, Salesforce Commerce Cloud (formerly Demandware) and similar companies for unified commerce solutions, with micro-businesses favoring those that integrate with popular online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and Etsy. Vendors use different pricing schemes, which can make comparisons challenging. One vendor may offer a flat monthly price based on feature sets (standard and professional editions, for example), where another offers revenue-based pricing in which a customer pays more as revenues grow. Flat-fee pricing is typically in the range of $1,200 to $1,600 per month for comprehensive feature sets, although “light” or “limited” plans start at much less.
By using the solution to track customers’ profiles and preferences, review real-time data reports and look at possible future trends (predictive analytics), a retailer can interact with customers in a much more targeted and personalized way. For example, knowing that a customer regularly buys children’s clothing online but not adult clothing or housewares enables the retailer to target discounts and special sales on children’s clothing to that customer, creating a better customer relationship. The customer receives highly relevant messages that save her money, which can result in higher sales and repeat business.
Adoption Rates Improving, Small Retailer Agility a Bonus
Although a unified commerce solution can bring lots of benefits to a retailer, it requires a business to switch from its current tools and processes, in which it may be heavily invested or simply comfortable. Change can take time. According to a 2016 Boston Retail Partners (BRP) survey, only 23% of North American retailers are using a unified commerce platform, but an additional 52% plan to implement a solution within the next three years.
Simple ecommerce systems, with relatively few features, used by many small retailers may provide an advantage while transitioning to unified commerce. Those systems are easier to integrate with unified commerce solutions, or to abandon completely during a clean move, compared to the complex systems used by large retailers that are tied to enterprise resource management (ERM) or customer relationship management (CRM) solutions.
Avoiding Pain Points on the Way to Unified Commerce
Moving to a unified commerce platform requires careful upfront planning, including a budget review, and a thorough comparison of the top-rated systems. Begin with a list of goals you want to achieve with a unified commerce platform and share them with each solution vendor you talk to. Be prepared to discuss your current technology setup as well. If possible, have each vendor demo their product.
A unified commerce platform can change the game for many small-business retailers. If you’re looking to expand into ecommerce, want a tighter flow between sales and inventory, or are looking to data analytics to help you understand your customers better, a unified commerce solution could have a game-changing impact on the success of your business.