The case for unified commerce

Driving profitability across multiple channels from pre- to post-purchase depends on implementing a unified commerce operating model, says Rory O’Connor, founder and CEO of delivery management and post-purchase experience software provider, Scurri

It is no longer enough for brands to simply optimise the performance of each of their channels to market by offering the best possible mix of inventory, price, promotion and service at the lowest possible management cost. It is also no longer enough, as many brands did following Covid, to diversify their categories (particularly own label), adopt a ruthless focus on operational costs and build better experiences.

All essential elements of an ecommerce operation but this model simply does not take full account of how the modern customer shops, particularly the younger Gen Z cohorts that are setting the trends.

In the face of rising costs and demanding customers that shop across multiple channels even for a single purchase, retailers and brands need to adopt a more balanced approach to channel management and start to build a unified commerce systems infrastructure, because consumers want the same experience whether they shop in-store or online.  And that means retailers need to build the full experience to match customers’ expectations – particularly when it comes to how they want their product delivered and returned.

Research in our recent report revealed just how important channel mix is and highlighted that consumers rely on a wider range of channels than ever before. While top channels for product inspiration were online, direct on a retailer’s website (45%), physical shops (45%) and word of mouth (23%), for emerging consumer cohorts such as Gen Z it was TikTok (39%), YouTube (32%) and online, direct on a retailer’s website (30%).

Further results from the same research reveal just how many touchpoints consumers are using. On average, the UK consumer has between 10 – 11 interactions with a brand or retailer before buying domestically across all main categories. Again, for Gen Z, this was higher – food (19), electricals (18) and health and beauty, fashion, and general retail (all 17).

Forbes usefully defines unified commerce as, “a strategy that centralises the data you’ve collected about customers and products on a single platform. These platforms can interconnect systems of ecommerce, mobile commerce, customer relationship management and more to help provide insights into how to improve the customer experience.”

Proof this approach is needed comes from a Bain study which indicates that virtually all retailers acknowledge the substantial influence of a meticulously implemented unified commerce strategy on overall profitability. A staggering 99% of retailers recognise this impact, with 73% attributing it to a substantial or significant effect. Additionally, every surveyed retailer, totalling 100%, notes a discernible impact on overall sales revenue, with 76% highlighting a substantial or significant influence.

Unified commerce depends on technology that enables brands to see and manage stock in real-time from a single systems platform that can deliver compelling experiences across the point of sale, payments and personalised delivery (to understand where the customer shipment needs to go for online orders and automated fulfilment from the closest location with stock, such as ship from store) and post-purchase choices that include returns.

These same single-platform systems enable rapid integration of customer-focused experiences across multiple channels that are unified through the use of APIs and access to a single data pool to in turn assess performance and generate KPIs against each campaign.

This consolidation of data and integration of systems at the centre must then enable advanced personalisation for the customer, particularly during delivery and post-purchase, unifying not just the experience across all channels but the functionality as well.

In this way, retailers and brands can offer the widest choice of delivery options (buy online and pick up in-store, buy online and deliver to home or PUDO – Pick Up-Drop Off – locations where customers can collect parcels and drop off returns), effective post-purchase communications to reduce pre-delivery anxiety, higher levels of control that customers can self-select and flexible returns.

However, in order to do this affordably and to a level of service that will engender higher spend and long-term loyalty, retailers will need to automate as many processes as possible using a single platform that is able to personalise to every customer need and track progress so that there are no breaks in service or communication.

Over time, retailers can start to set more demanding KPIs by analysing performance data that will indicate where changes need to be made. For instance, adjusting product location and delivery to meet customer demands based on observable trends. The closer retailers locate stock to the customers the faster they can arrange delivery and lower the cost of delivery and potential returns. If a customer orders online and stock is available at a nearby store it should be shipped from here instead of a central warehouse. This is just one scenario, when it should over time be possible to optimise almost any process in the order and fulfilment chain.

The goal for retailers and brands is to give their customers an experience that is both rewarding and profitable for both parties. By building a unified commerce strategy they will be able then to accelerate their progress by more closely defining objectives, setting KPIs and building or adapting their tech stack to deliver the best possible service across the customer journey.

For more key takeaways around how taking control of the delivery and post-purchase delivery experience can build greater trust, increase customer loyalty, and deliver increased revenue opportunities, download Omnichannel strategies for driving profitability across multiple channels from pre-to post-purchase.