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18 Retail Influencers Weigh in on the Unified Commerce Imperative

Ninety-six percent of retailers believe Unified Commerce is important, with 73% citing it as one of the top priorities in the industry. Yet, only 57% think their Unified Commerce strategy is well-defined.

Such finds our latest report in partnership with Bain & Company, “The State of Unified Commerce.” Our survey of more than 300 retail executives responsible for IT decision-making in the US, UK and Canada revealed two big trends:

  • Decision-makers recognize Unified Commerce as the present and future of retail.
  • But whether it’s a lack of clarity, tools or technology, many still struggle with execution

Unified Commerce is among the most important and swiftest evolutions in modern retail. But clarity can be hard to come by in a sea of new players and hot takes. So, what can retailers do to close the gap between having ambitious Unified Commerce goals and actually getting them done?

We reached out to some of the top retail thinkers and influencers to get their perspectives, including our VP of Strategy at Aptos, Nikki Baird, and co-author of the report brief, Bala Parameshwaran, Partner at Bain & Company. Here’s what they had to say about the state of Unified Commerce.

What is Unified Commerce?

Unified Commerce integrates all sales channels and customer touchpoints into a single, seamless customer experience.

On the emerging demand for Unified Commerce

“More than two decades of seismic digital disruption have led to a world where we no longer go online, we live online. A world where retailers who were once in competition with the guy across the street — or across town at the mall — now have to battle with a vast array of competitors around the world vying for customers’ attention wherever she happens to be.” – Steve Dennis, Retail strategy consultant, keynote speaker and bestselling author

“[A] Unified Commerce approach is the way to meet the modern customer where they are. This convenience and assurance is not just desired by customers today, but is more or less demanded by them.” – Micah Solomon, Customer experience and service consultant and bestselling author

“The concept behind a Unified Commerce platform is that all customer-facing channels are brought together into one program. The customer doesn’t care (or even know) about one channel or multiple channels. The customer only cares that they get a great experience.” – Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer at Shepard Presentations and bestselling author 

“Unified Commerce recognizes that customers’ path to purchase is not linear with a start, middle and end. Rather, customers start, stop, circle back and move on to another retailer if they feel let down. The traditional idea of a linear path to purchase prioritizes transactions over relationships, which is the goal of unified commerce [prioritizing relationships] and what customers want and need now. Unified commerce is the key to retailers’ future.” Pamela Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing

On the benefits of Unified Commerce

“Loyalty means serving customers’ needs. Providing the opportunity for Unified Commerce means customers will necessarily be more loyal.” – Richard Kestenbaum, Partner and Co-founder, Triangle Capital LLC

“It’s no surprise then that retailers who have adopted Unified Commerce have reported an increase in sales or revenue. The key to success lies in value – what value can you add to the customer experience through each channel? How could you increase that value by connecting it to another touchpoint?” – Jack Stratten, Head of Trends at Insider Trends 

“While retailers have been good at adding new touchpoints, the priority now is to unify everything so that systems and processes talk to each other. This helps to both create a smooth experience for the customer and improve efficiency for the retailer. Ultimately, integrating systems gives retailers more control and allows them to make better decisions about how to run the business.” – Neil Saunders, Managing Director, Retail at GlobalData 

“Retailers have a unique path to success with Unified Commerce, which allows for a seamless customer journey across buying channels, increased operational agility, and a less fragmented payments ecosystem...Aptos and Bain found that 96% of retailers are already invested or plan to invest in seamless payment processing across channels to implement a Unified Commerce strategy. This is critical, considering up to 55% of consumers abandon purchases if they can’t pay using their preferred methods, whether in stores or online, according to our 2023 research at Adyen.” – Alex Rhodes, VP, Global Unified Commerce Strategy, Adyen, a financial technology platform partnered with Aptos 

On the challenges of executing Unified Commerce 

“[The fact] that more than 60% [of retailers] have implemented in-store technology that enable Unified Commerce use cases, meanwhile 59% of retailers report gaps in their stores’ Unified Commerce readiness, is both surprising and disappointing. It points to a disconnect between both parties – retail businesses and the technology partners they depend on.” – Andrew Busby, Founder, Retail Reflections

“More and more, digital drove physical retail sales, and vice versa. Distinctions between the online channel and the store channel began to evaporate. Increasingly channel-centric thinking (and acting) got in the way of success. Without adopting and flawlessly executing a Unified Commerce approach, not only will retailers fall behind, they may risk irrelevance.” – Steve Dennis

“On the inside of a company, anything that requires multiple platforms or programs creates a less-than-optimal situation. It can be time-consuming and clunky to have to navigate multiple platforms.” – Shep Hyken 

On the fundamentals of successful Unified Commerce implementation 

“Leaders are moving from omnichannel to an integrated platform strategy for Unified Commerce. Organizations that take a holistic approach will be the most likely winners.” – Bala Parameshwaran, Partner at Bain & Company 

“Consumers expect convenience and clarity as part of their shopping journeys, plain and simple. As commerce has evolved, so have customer expectations and this includes their engagement at every touchpoint on their path to purchase. No detail should be ignored on a customer's path to purchase and equally as important is the connectivity of consumers to brands and merchants, 24|7.” – Nicole Leinbach, Founder of Retail Minded 

“During the pandemic retailers faced a stark choice: fail to adapt and die or get in the game and the best way to do that was to unblock millions of dollars of 'stuck' technology and data projects. Having learned that lesson, we're seeing those same retailers go big since then and continue to invest and innovate.

Retailers that have used ‘stuck’ technology and data project investments to bring together formerly diverse customer experiences are seeing big gains in overall share. [Customers] have an impulse and they follow that impulse. The lower the friction for customers to be gratified, the better.” – Richard Hammond, CEO and founder of CX retail consultancy Uncrowd and author

“The customer is served best by Unified Commerce, and the best way to get there is through cross-divisional commitment.” – Christine Russo, Partner at Retail Creative & Consulting Agency (RCCA) and host of the What Just Happened podcast

“The retailers who are most successful at Unified Commerce aren’t trying to shape customer behavior by forcing consumers on convoluted multi-touchpoint journeys for the sake of it. They understand how customers are getting inspiration, researching and buying naturally and find ways to plug the gaps for a more seamless experience.” – Jack Stratten

“Unified Commerce is underpinned by a fundamental understanding that online and offline retail can be utilized together to create a better experience for the customer. In the brick-and-mortar environment, this must start with a willingness to think more broadly about the value ascribed to stores. In many ways, Unified Commerce in physical stores is less about bringing new functionality to the table and more about taking advantage of the underappreciated values that have always been there.” – Ethan Chernofsky, SVP of Marketing at Placer.Ai 

“You can't claim to offer unified commerce if you haven't solved the store. If you're leaving the store experience behind, then it's because you're not paying attention to the right things in the store. And the store associate is the center of that.” – Nikki Baird, VP of Strategy at Aptos 

“The new store must augment the online process, not replicate it. Further its value as a point of human engagement and brand building cannot be overstated.” – Sanford Stein, founder of LinkedIn’s retail professionals' group, RETAIL SPEAK, and bestselling author 

“Ask yourself: ‘What does success look like for my store?’ and ‘How does this simplify the shopping experience for my customers?’ Without clear answers, retailers often feel overwhelmed, thinking, ‘This requires tremendous effort.’

Consider this, data is the equivalent of the 'Inspiration' stage in the retail customer's buying cycle. Just as a customer feels an initial spark of desire to see a captivating product, having meaningful and connected data is a cornerstone for any successful business strategy.

Engaging with data and understanding it is like you're in the 'Hunter-gatherer' phase. It used to be, one would gather information through physical interactions and observations. Today, this involves connecting various data points, especially important as we are in the early stages of AI development...” – Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor and Founder of SalesRX 

Take the next steps to Unified Commerce

“...Once you've gathered your data, you enter the 'Critical Parent' or the 'Aunt Jean phase'. This is where you critically analyze your data, asking crucial questions: ‘Is this data reliable?’ ‘How does it benefit the business?’ ‘Are there cost-effective ways to utilize this data?’ You're essentially ensuring you're making the best decisions without being taken advantage of by misleading data points. 

As you connect and understand more data points, the final phase, akin to the 'Joy of Purchase', will be the effortless access and analysis of all interconnected data in the future. With a strong foundation now, businesses can celebrate the ease of navigating through their integrated data landscape, much like a customer rejoices in their perfect purchase. Unless everyone knows what success looks like - using examples of frustrations in shopping in un-connected situations - they'll want to delay implementation.” – Bob Phibbs  

“Now, more than ever, the size of the prize for getting it right is considerable. And those that do will reap the rewards in an increasingly challenging market. The lesson is: keep your friends close and your technology partners closer.” – Andrew Busby 

“It’s more important to get as much information TO stores than it is to get information out of stores – because so much more activity happens outside the store anyway, thanks to digital. It’s the information distribution that has changed the most to move the store more firmly into the center of any Unified Commerce strategy.” – Nikki Baird

“The Aptos and Bain Unified Commerce report findings is a stark reminder that articulating a Unified Commerce vision is vital, and the real unlock lies in a retailer’s ability to drive effective cross-functional change and transformation.” – Oliver Banks, Retail Transformation Director & Consultant, OB&Co 

Read the Aptos and Bain & Co. report