Brick-and-Mortar Retailers’ Secret Weapon: Unified Commerce
In the age of omnichannel, almost every retailer has an app, website, brick-and-mortar presence, mobile and email promotions, and more. There's such a thing as having “too much siloed omnichannel,” and disparate channels can mean a confusing and disorderly shopping experience for the customer. While omnichannel was a step in the progression from the retailer standpoint, “unified commerce” is the next step from a consumer standpoint. It’s time to focus on unifying all channels for a better customer experience.
Unified commerce makes the customer experience the No. 1 priority. With this approach, selling channels work together to provide a cohesive shopping experience and path to purchase.
According to Boston Retail Partners, 73 percent of retailers plan to have a unified commerce platform implemented by the end of 2019. Gartner reports that 89 percent of businesses will be competing solely on improving the customer experience in the same timeframe.
Considerations for Unified Commerce
A full unified commerce experience typically includes at least three channels: a frictionless e-commerce website, a mobile-optimized version or app, and a differentiated in-person, live experience that consumers will remember and revisit. Of course, these channels must work together seamlessly and deliver a consistent brand experience.
Consumers expect pricing to be transparent, if not consistent wherever the brand is sold. If a shopper sees an item online first, but they’d like to see it, touch it and try it out before purchasing, they might be alarmed to find it marked up an extra $20 in-store. This can break customer trust.
Logistics is another factor to consider, especially when it comes to returns and exchanges. When the buying process is easy, returns and exchanges should be too. We’ve all heard of buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), but consider buy online, return in-store (BORIS) too. If a customer has to return a product by mail, it usually gets sent back to a warehouse to sit — or worse, falls into the hands of a liquidator to handle. With an effortless process, visible signage and short wait times, associates can quickly get products back on shelves to sell again. Both of these also help with store traffic.
Retailers must also be armed with competitive pricing and shipping options across these channels. Modern third-party logistics companies can provide same-day delivery, and in many cases in less than an hour from order. Another option is to ship products directly from stores to cut down on delivery times and lower shipping costs. Leveraging stores as distribution centers can reduce shipping time and optimize local store assets.
While it’s cliché to say, communication is key. Retailers should make inventory transparent between internal teams and customers; ship from effective locations; and let customers know if their desired item is available for one-hour delivery, at a store near them for BOPIS, or from a distribution center with a longer lead time. In the event of an out-of-stock, retailers should educate shoppers to help them make the most of their unified commerce experience.
Which Brands Are Doing Unified Commerce Right?
Warby Parker, now valued at $1.75 billion, offers one of the most competitive unified commerce experiences today. A digitally native vertical brand, Warby Parker now has a thriving in-store presence and has built commerce bridges to connect the two experiences seamlessly.
In its early days, Warby Parker shipped five free try-on pairs of eyeglasses to improve the in-person try-before-you-buy experience. Now, consumers go to any Warby Parker store for an eye exam or enter a prescription from their eye doctor online. They can shop in either location for the perfect pair of glasses, and have them shipped to their home or a nearby store. Consumers then have the option of a complimentary, in-person fitting, or free, easy returns through any channel. For Warby Parker, seamless channel hopping is the key to sales success.
Grocery stores are picking up on unified commerce, too, with the continued success of Peapod, Hannaford-To-Go, Walmart Grocery (formerly Walmart-To-Go) and other services. Consumers can now shop in-store or online, and have their groceries dropped off at their home or delivered to their car. Anyone with a baby can instantly recognize the value of curbside delivery!
Walmart has taken unified commerce by the horns to meet its online growth goals of 40 percent by the end of its 2019 fiscal year. The retailer is simultaneously driving in-store growth by offering lower prices for in-store pick up, particularly for online items that become unprofitable when shipped directly to the customer. By optimizing its selling channels, Walmart is increasing cart sizes in-store and online.
Satisfied customers equal significant growth when every channel is working together in real time. For retailers looking to offer the most positive customer experience, unified commerce is the answer.
Kathleen Egan is vice president of customer success at Wiser, a company that collects and analyzes online and offline data with unmatched speed, scale and accuracy for brands, retailers and more.
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