As a retailer, you always want to offer your customers the best possible experience – regardless of whether a customer is in your store or at home sitting at their computer. Your business processes and sales channels need to work seamlessly so that your customer experiences the same personalised shopping experience wherever they are. That’s the goal of unified commerce, a modern and dominant retail business strategy.

For many organisations, unified commerce is a mere speck on the horizon. Online and offline shopping need to work seamlessly, and to achieve this, four key components need to be aligned. Firstly, your systems, including your checkout, webshop and order management. You also need to look at your (sales) channels and products. Channels need to connect seamlessly, and product and inventory information needs to be up to date and accurate both offline and online. Finally, it’s all about interactions. Everything needs to be available in real time and in one place.

Streamlining your systems, channels, products and interactions are the ingredients for a successful unified commerce business. But where should you as an organisation make a start to be successful? What market movements should you take notice of? In this article, we look at three key trends in the field of unified commerce.

1. From flash delivery to BOPIS and pick-up points

Fast, faster, fastest. For a long time, this was the motto when delivering purchases to a home address. Home delivery of your product within a few days became guaranteed delivery within 48 or 24 hours. And from ‘same day delivery’, we shifted quickly to flash delivery, with delivery times within an hour or even fifteen minutes. The faster, the better.

The ‘delivery war’ became more and more extreme, but the tide is now turning. This is mainly due to two aspects: cost and sustainability. Lightning-fast delivery is great, but it comes with a big price tag. Customers are less and less willing to pay this extra cost. And it is partly because the subject of sustainability is growing in importance. In this context, new initiatives are emerging, such as BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up In Store) and pick-up points at easily accessible locations on the outskirts of a city or village. The realisation that parcel services are increasingly dominating the traffic in villages is creating a steadily growing aversion to home delivery among consumers. The pick-up points offer a solution for the expensive and unsustainable last mile to the customer’s front door.

Unified commerce plays an important role in this trend. What options should you offer your customer? What are the costs associated with any given delivery method? What options can you offer for returning items? Customer needs vary from day to day and from product to product. Using IT, you can respond to each case and always offer the right price and service.

2. Personalisation and clienteling

In the digital world, personalised advertising has become part of life. If you google something, you’ll soon be flooded with advertisements about that particular topic. It may feel a bit uncomfortable, as if the digital world knows all about you, but you’re gradually getting used to it. And let’s be honest: you get more from an advertisement that’s relevant to you than from an advertisement for a product or service for which you’re not in the target group.

As this personalisation already exists digitally, consumers are coming to expect it from retailers in-store as well. To offer this, you as a retailer need to know your customers. Based on their purchase history and a rounded customer picture, you can suggest the right offer at the right time. This is only possible with a well-constructed unified commerce landscape. As a retailer, you need to have a single source, and one customer image, both online and offline.

This is how you work on clienteling, a modern technique for retailers. Clienteling means that you always have up-to-date information about any customer, and you can then shape your services to them to encourage them to make a purchase. The goal is long-term customer relationships and fuller shopping carts.

3. Moving towards the cashless store

Online and offline shopping must blend seamlessly. But there’s still an important difference in the checkout experience. Shopping and paying online is done with just a few clicks, without waiting for anyone. Offline, in stores, customers often still have to queue at a checkout till.

Streamlined self-service can already improve the checkout experience in many stores. But this is just the first step. The trend for the future is the cashless store. In Poland, supermarket chain Żabka is leading the way with this approach. Their stores are accessible 24 hours a day and purchases are registered and paid for via your customer card, using self-scanning and cameras. This means that Żabka’s customers can always buy their products quickly, without worrying about opening hours or delivery schedules.

In a cashless store, or one that has customers using self-scanning, stock is updated in real time as soon as a product leaves the shelf. This has the huge advantage of the current stock levels being correct at all times. At present, it is often still the case that store inventory is not updated until a product has been paid for at the checkout. However, it may be that the last one of a particular item is already sitting in a customer’s physical shopping cart. If the customer then spends more time shopping before they head to the checkout, your stock will be incorrect. Products that are shown as available digitally are no longer physically on the shelves. Thanks to a real-time connection to your IT system, these kinds of issues are a thing of the past.

How much progress has your organisation made with unified commerce?

Would you like to learn more about the steps you can take as a retailer using this business strategy?

Contact our Unified Commerce expert Ivo van der Raad.