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Retail Leaders Perplexed by Unified Commerce: The Answer is the Store

Ninety-nine percent of retailers believe a well-executed Unified Commerce strategy has an impact on overall profitability and sales revenue.

Despite that, many have yet to adopt one. Why?

According to our latest research report in partnership with Bain & Co, The State of Unified Commerce, only 56% of retailers believe they have a clear and well-defined strategy to execute Unified Commerce and only 49% cite their company's current choice of Unified Commerce technology stack layers are adequate to support the company's Unified Commerce ambitions. Our survey of more than 300 retail executives in the US, UK and Canada, made it clear: most retailers know that they need to achieve Unified Commerce, but many don’t know how to actually achieve it.

Most retailers have yet to discover and master the fundamental role the store plays in Unified Commerce. As the centerpiece to the vast majority of shopping journeys, the store is the bridge between a retailer’s ambitions for Unified Commerce and its transformative benefits.

In this blog post, we unpack the key insights from our report on Unified Commerce with Bain & Co, exploring retailers’ aspirations for a better-connected customer experience across the shopper journey, challenges to achieving this mission and how the store is the answer to both.

What is Unified Commerce?

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

The store is indispensable for unified experiences

Your customer experience is as critical as ever. Brand loyalty can only go so far in a market featuring endless options delivered through countless sales channels. Any friction for your customer, and you risk losing them to your competitors.

It’s no wonder why three out of four retailers said it is important to invest in Unified Commerce.

But while the intent is there for most retailers, there still may be a disconnect with what Unified Commerce actually means, and how to execute it correctly.

In-demand services like Buy-Online-Pickup-in-Store (BOPIS), omnichannel returns, and ship from store are key. But simply offering them isn’t enough. If a customer has to fill gaps — or worse, overcome any disruptions — in their experience, your efforts will fall flat. This risk is even higher for retailers who rely on lots of people or processes to keep these services afloat, such as department store chains.

In the age of Unified Commerce, you can’t make it difficult for a shopper to shop with you and expect to stay competitive. More than 70% of retail customers abandon carts, with excess costs and difficult checkout experiences as leading causes.

The customer experience must be seamless. That can only be achieved through a Unified Commerce solution that puts the store at the heart of everything.

The vast majority of sales still happen in stores. And while online revenue contributions have grown, expectations for stores are as high as ever. Stores are the home to the brand’s identity; a way to physically interact with the retailer’s products/services pre-purchase; an opportunity for in-person employee assistance; a place of community. Stores also must be more than an endpoint.

Before the rise of digital and the need for Unified Commerce, stores were islands disconnected from the enterprise. It was all about getting as much to stores, and then getting as much data out of stores as possible to understand what’s happening there. Now, stores serve almost any role of retail operations, from order point to inventory location to reverse logistics hub.

Today, the store intersects with nearly every omnichannel consumer activity. 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 to the center of any Unified Commerce strategy.

Modern Point-of-Sale delivers the promise

Retailers today expect the following for their investment in Unified Commerce: increased profitability, enhanced inventory management, and improved experiences and loyalty.

The majority of retail executives said they have invested in real-time inventory management (83%), mobile commerce (80%) and sales data integration (79%). This trend will only continue. Investments in these areas will average 93-96% within the next three years (with real-time inventory ranking the highest).

In other words, retailers recognize they will be judged on their ability to connect their customers and products. Those that can get the right products to the right people at the right time will win.

Technology and data are essential for making this happen.

Enter the modern Point of Sale (POS) solution. POS is where sales execution happens. And it is by far the best source for understanding most information coming out of stores, especially when given as close to real time as possible.

Whether it's a promotion, customer engagement, omnichannel or inventory strategy, POS is critical for implementation and analysis of Unified Commerce.

When asked what moves the needle on their Unified Commerce goals, an underwhelming percentage of retail executives (47%) said that in-aisle selling is a critical component. This is a missed opportunity. Mobile POS (mPOS) empowers store associates to assist customers at key points in the shopper journey, including during the browsing phase at the front of the store – especially valuable during peak shopping season when conversions are otherwise dependent on assistance with product discovery and shorter cues.

Intuitive integration overcomes legacy obstacles

In addition to its wealth of omnichannel advantages, the store is still the most important sales channel for customer experience and acquisition. Retailers are investing accordingly.

More than 60% of retailers said they have implemented in-store technology to reach their Unified Commerce goals. Executives find the in-store technology that’s most highly contributing to the retailer’s in-store experience are Point-of-Sale (92% of respondents), Inventory Management (90%) and Order Management (91%) solutions.

Unfortunately, only 41% believe their stores are prepared to support Unified Commerce.

Investments are falling short of expectations. Why?

At best, legacy systems can only bottleneck modern experiences. And there is a prevailing perception that Unified Commerce is difficult to implement with existing legacy systems. Seventy percent of retailers cite legacy integration as a key challenge.

A Unified Commerce solution worth the investment must make integration easy, be that with modern (via API) or JSON file-based technology. And it must be able to integrate the data in multiple directions with near-real time updates.

Aptos ONE, for example, centralizes API calls in the Cloud, funnels them into a gateway and manages calls — and leverages services — across external systems.

Unified Commerce technology enables alignment

Seventy-nine percent of retail executives say alignment between business and technology is critically important. Seventy-one percent say the same for organizational collaboration.

These figures fall once you leave the head office: lower-level executives are less confident that they have the tools, technology and strategy for Unified Commerce than senior executives.

Unified Commerce is holistic. At its core, Unified Commerce is built to enable every person in the enterprise to play their part in delivering a seamless customer experience, together.

With long and risky rollouts, it's no wonder why retailers tend to lean on their existing store technology. But legacy tech only widens the gap between enterprise goals, organizational alignment and customer expectations.

Unified Commerce aligns consumer and commercial goals swiftly, while mitigating risk. Changes can be rolled out or rolled back that gives retailers more central control. With faster delivery cycles for innovation and the Cloud at the heart, retailers can afford to take more risks, experiment more and move faster.

Key Takeaways from The State of Unified Commerce: A Bain and Aptos Study

  • Almost all retailers recognize the impact of Unified Commerce, but less than half believe they can currently execute on it.
  • Enter the store: the most seamlessly integrated, adaptive and dominant sales channel.
  • Modern POS brings Unified Commerce strategies to life, bolstered by real-time inventory management, mobile commerce and sales data integration.
  • Solutions must integrate with modern and legacy technology: 70% of retailers struggle with legacy integration.
  • Unified Commerce aligns customers, colleagues and the C-suite by delivering seamless retail experiences.

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