A complete guide to Omnichannel Retail and Unified Commerce Platforms
In this complete guide to omnichannel and Unified Commerce Platforms, we’ll not only explain what omnichannel, unified commerce and a Unified Commerce Platform are, we’ll also show you how to achieve great omnichannel retail. And you’ll discover why creating great omnichannel retail using a Unified Commerce Platform is the secret to long-term success and growth.
The race to achieve great omnichannel retail is well and truly on. But what is great omnichannel retail? What benefits does it bring? And, most importantly, how do you turn it into a reality?
This guide covers:
- Chapter 1: Omnichannel retail and customer experience
- Chapter 2: What is omnichannel?
- Chapter 3: What is Unified Commerce?
- Chapter 4: How do you achieve omnichannel retail?
- Chapter 5: How a new mindset to retail software will help you achieve great omnichannel retail
- Chapter 6: The benefits of a modern approach to retail software
- Chapter 7: What is a Unified Commerce Platform?
- Chapter 8: What is a Unified Commerce Platform anchored by POS?
- Chapter 9: The biggest benefits of omnichannel
- Conclusion & Summary
Chapter 1: Omnichannel retail and customer experience
Choice – and convenience – have always been what consumers crave.
Now retail is everywhere – and always on – consumers have levels of choice and convenience that they’ve never had before. They expect every interaction with you to be easy, simple and hassle-free. If it isn’t, there’s so many options for them to choose from, they’ll go and shop elsewhere.
With the ecomm and mobile tech boom we’ve seen in the last decade, delivering a seamless omnichannel customer experience across all touchpoints and customer interactions is retail’s Holy Grail.
Many retailers strive to deliver on the promise but, more often than not, fall short.
In the eyes of the customers, there’s only ever been one channel. They see a brand as one entity – not silos or different channels. And they expect every brand to deliver on its promise regardless of the channel.
An omnichannel approach – where all your channels are connected (preferably in real-time) is the only way to consistently deliver on this promise. It’s why more and more retailers across the globe are turning to a Unified Commerce Platform – which creates great omnichannel – to transform their CX and make their retail operations way more efficient, simple and hassle-free.
All of this can seem complex but, in truth, there’s a simple mantra for retail success…
Your customers should always get what they want.
It doesn’t matter where their journey begins or the first touchpoint they encounter your brand. All that matters is giving them the experience they want, when they want it and wherever they want it. Customers expect a consistent omnichannel experience across all touchpoints and it’s your job to give it to them.
And this is why great omnichannel and a unified retail commerce strategy are so important.
Chapter 2: What is omnichannel?
So what does omnichannel mean in retail? Rather than your different sales channels acting as silos, the channels are linked, enabling omnichannel sales and giving the customer a cross-channel experience (omnichannel experience).
For example, if they browse a product online, add this product to their shopping cart but abandon the cart before making a purchase, they could then receive a shopping cart abandonment email while, at the same time, being served up the same message of ‘You’ve forgotten something…’ as a social ad.
While all the channels appear to act as one, the reality is different. Not all omnichannel retail is equal. Omnichannel retail is based on numerous different backend systems talking to each other; these systems all have different functionality and hold different data – but are very seldom in sync. This means the data isn’t always reliable because it isn’t updated in real time and the omnichannel customer experience is, therefore, not seamless.
Take the example of a store associate searching for a product for a customer. The product isn’t available in-store but the store associate can see online stock is available. However, there’s only one in stock. But can the associate trust this? If the stocks aren’t connected in real time they could sell the item to the customer only for the order not to be fulfilled because the data wasn’t synced in real time.
This is where the evolution to great omnichannel sales – made possible with a Unified Commerce Platform – starts.
In the best examples of omnichannel retail all information across all sales channels is unified and exchanged in real time. The boundaries between different channels are removed. Inventory is unified and the omnichannel sales and fulfillment options available to your customers are hugely enhanced.
Great omnichannel commerce gives you a 360 view of your customers and the tools you need to give your customers what they want, wherever and whenever they want it. Omnichannel retail is the secret to giving your customers the best possible experiences.
Chapter 3: What is Unified Commerce?
In a nutshell, unified commerce is retail nirvana. It’s the ultimate expression of omnichannel retail where there is one version of the truth and all channels are one.
With unified commerce there are no discrepancies between data from different channels or touchpoints – all product, inventory, order, payment and customer data from all channels is exchanged and updated in real time.
Unified commerce is built around what your customer wants, but since it also involves connecting all backend and frontend systems in real time, unified commerce also makes your retail operations streamlined and efficient.
With one truth and full transparency across all touchpoints you can provide a unified experience for your customers regardless of channels, giving them the ultimate customer experience.
Read more articles about Unified Commerce and Omnichannel
Chapter 4: How do you achieve omnichannel retail?
Each retailer has different prerequisites when they start their journey towards great omnichannel retail and each brand has different customer audiences with different demands and needs. Therefore the omnichannel strategy, the order in which each retailer implements the different elements of omnichannel commerce, also looks different for each retailer. But all omnichannel retail, no matter the level and no matter what your prerequisites are, is facilitated by a Unified Commerce Platform.
But not just any Unified Commerce Platform. To truly improve your omnichannel, and reach for delivering the ultimate omnichannel experiences, you need a Unified Commerce Platform that’s built with modern future-proof technology.
The industry tech standard that you should be looking for is called MACH. It stands for Microservices based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless. With a modern cloud-native platform all sales channels connect in real time with unified product, inventory, order, payment and customer data across all touchpoints.
Steps towards great omnichannel
For the following steps, we’ve put together different features and flows of omnichannel in a generalized order of how difficult or easy (depending on how you see it) they are to achieve.
The order presupposes that you (as a retailer) use modern cloud-native retail technology.
Here are some of the omnichannel retail features that are more or less out-of-the box if you use a cloud-native Unified Commerce Platform anchored by POS:
- Real-time inventory levels across stores
- Cross-store selling and fulfillment (buy in store A, collect in store B)
- Cross-store returns (buy in store A, return in store B)
- Cross-store reservations (reserve in store A, buy in store B)
- In-store service orders
- Rewards when recycling in-store
- Non-AI-driven product recommendations
Omnichannel retailers will typically have physical stores, an ecomm store, social selling and a presence on different marketplaces. In the beginning of your omnichannel retail journey, these different channels will be connected but often in simple ways.
The following features are fairly easy to implement but, to reach the next level and step closer towards great omnichannel, your omnichannel strategy has to include connecting your stores with your eCommerce and your CRM.
You can do this by either building simple integrations using APIs or by using standard integrations to market leading service providers that often are provided by a modern Unified Commerce Platform.
When you do this, additional omnichannel features and functionality include:
- Omnichannel gift cards (that work in physical stores and online)
- Cross-channel view of customer cards and personal offers
- Online inventory availability can be viewed in the Point of Sale
- Real-time in-store stock levels can be viewed online
- External products (search, purchase, fulfill and return)
- BOPIS – By online pickup in store (using the store as a place of delivery but not using the in-store inventory)
This is a great start on your journey towards great omnichannel retail. But it can get even better…
If you further want to improve your omnichannel retail you need to upgrade your integrations to your eCommerce and your CRM but, depending on your ecosystems and your omnichannel strategy, you might also have to involve other retail systems and channels like OMS and Marketplaces. In the next level you’ll get a full 360° view of your customers and you’ll be able to enhance the omnichannel experience you give them.
The next level gives you:
- Unified product, inventory, order, payment and customer data across all touch points.
- Buy in store ship from central warehouse
- BOPIS – By online pickup in store (using the in-store inventory to fulfill the order)
- ROBIS – Reserve online, buy in store
- Curbside Pickup (using either BOPIS or ROBIS)
- BORIS – Buy online return in store
- Buy on marketplace return in store
- Access to a single 360°customer view – everywhere
- External payments
When you’ve come this far you have a pretty good set up. But to reach great omnichannel retail, where you understand everything about your customers and what they want, you need to extend and connect your retail ecosystem even further.
Your integrations have to be expanded, some of your tools might have to be customized and you have to start using AI-driven functionality.
- Using the stores as fulfillment centers, shipping online or marketplace orders from stores
- Customers check into a store with their phone which triggers an alert for store associates who will then receive in-depth information about that customer allowing them to tailor their service accordingly
- Store associates having the ability to send personalized messages to customers
- AI-driven product recommendations
Great omnichannel retail is not just about right now. It’s also about preparing yourself for the future and unified commerce. We firmly believe one of the most important things you can (and should) be doing right now is laying the foundations to future-proof your retail business. If you invest in technology that will evolve and grow with you, you’ll always be in the position to meet the needs of your customers and deliver on their expectations. This is what Gartner says about unified commerce and modern software in relation to the customer experience:
“Unified retail commerce is a modern dominant business strategy that provides retail consumers with a continuous experience as they browse, transact, acquire and consume, regardless of touchpoints. It relies on three core pillars to support the business strategy — a strong connection between a unified front end (through one view of the customer) and a unified back end (through one view of the retailer), experience-led and composability.”
Chapter 5: How a new mindset to retail software will help you achieve great omnichannel retail
As far as we’re concerned, reaching great omnichannel retail – and stepping closer towards unified commerce – is only possible with a modern approach to retail software.
The retail software you choose – whether it’s a CRM, order management system, footfall counter or a Unified Commerce Platform or POS – plays an essential role in your success.
The best way forward is to embrace a flexible, best-of-breed way of thinking to create systems and processes that work for you and deliver on your customer promise.This kind of ‘composable’ approach – built on simplicity, adaptability and open innovation means you can quickly adapt to customer needs and market dynamics.
Besides making your business more agile and adaptable, a composable approach also most often leads to reduced overall costs.
Software solutions are the building blocks you use to create omnichannel-flows and achieve great omnichannel retail. A traditional mindset would rely on one system to control and deliver on everything. However legacy systems are quickly becoming obsolete.
With a new mindset and approach to retail software, you can create your own retail ecosystem to create the kind of omnichannel retail experience you know your customers want.
This means that you must find best-of-breed solutions you can use to create the best setup for your business; POS, ERP, Ecom, PIM, Payments and so on. All of these blocks are built with modern, cloud-native technology, are API first and easy to integrate to fit with the others – and without them, achieving great omnichannel retail and moving ever closer towards true unified commerce with integrated front and backend data in real time is virtually impossible.
When it comes to retail software, the industry tech standard is called MACH.
MACH stands for:
M – Microservices: Individual pieces of business functionality that are independently developed,deployed, and managed.
A – API-first: All functionality is exposed through an API.
C – Cloud-native SaaS: that leverages the cloud, beyond storage and hosting, including elastic scaling and automatically updating.
H – Headless: Front-end presentation is decoupled from back-end logic and channel, programming language, and is framework agnostic.
In essence, MACH Certification (which the best software vendors have) gives enterprises confidence they are choosing best-in-class vendors that can deliver future-proof technology.
“To ensure that enterprises can innovate swiftly and have an agile experience roadmap, they must own a modular “swappable” architecture. This is the only way to deploy new features rapidly and retain control of their destiny.”
Chapter 6: The benefits of a modern approach to retail software
Alongside helping you achieve great omnichannel retail, rethinking your approach to software and changing your mindset brings with it a host of benefits for your business, your store associates and your customers.
Enablement & empowerment
With a composable approach, you’ll be running the software you want on your terms. This makes life a dream for your store associates as everything is straightforward, optimized for its purpose, easy to use and works seamlessly. This means they can focus their energy on serving your customers and giving them the kind of experience they expect.
The best-of-breed, SaaS model means you keep costs down. Maintenance and field service costs evaporate, you can significantly reduce consultancy hours and you won’t have to dig deep into your pockets to pay for updates every time you want to roll out a new feature. Most of our retailers transforming their business with a best-of-breed approach usually have a run rate saving of up to 50% when they have undergone their transformation and the total cost of ownership is reduced..
Time to market
The best-of-breed model means you can react and respond instantly to what’s happening around you. By removing the need for bespoke development, you can roll out new, integrated software and features in record time.
With endless opportunities and possibilities, you have the flexibility to choose what you want and how you want it to work. You can build your perfect solution and if one block doesn’t quite fit, you can easily replace it with one that does.
Alongside fast and efficient integration, a composable approach means there’s lasting compatibility and no need for bespoke development or maintenance. With customization without disrupting the code base and external services as an integrated part of the POS, you can sleep safe in the knowledge that everything will work seamlessly, all of the time.
Next level CX
By having a 360° view of your customers cross-channel behavior (and, in turn, giving them a 360° view of you) you can turbocharge your CX and put yourself in a position where you can give your customers exactly what they want – every single time. Your store associates are empowered, through this approach, to deliver personalized experiences to your customers, helping you go above and beyond customer expectations and stay ahead of your competitors.
If you want to dive deeper into this, you can download our free guide to ramping up your CX by changing your mindset to retail software. Download eBook
Chapter 7: What is a Unified Commerce Platform?
With a new mindset to retail software, investing in a Unified Commerce Platform should be one of the first things on your to-do list.
A Unified Commerce Platform is a central platform that connects all your different applications, retail systems and sales channels in real time. As mentioned previously, your backend systems and your frontend customer-facing channels become one. The result is one truth, with unified product information, inventory, order, payment and customer data across all touchpoints.
With a Unified Commerce Platform, you’re not only connecting your channels, you’re merging them and your backend systems to one completely accurate and fully transparent real-time ecosystem.
The purpose of the Unified Commerce Platform is to enable seamless cross-channel customer experiences that meet your brand promise to the customer. Furthermore, the purpose is to give you reliable data in real-time so you can make data-driven decisions on how to optimize the way you run your retail business.
Each Unified Commerce Platform is different but the key to a great Unified Commerce Platform is its APIs (the communication layer of the platform facilitating integration/communication between the platform and other retail systems).
The platform is usually a combination of built-in functionality available through the APIs, and functionality enabled by the platform’s APIs when the platform integrates with other systems and solutions.
The essence, whether the functionality is part of the platform or provided through integrations, is that the Unified Commerce Platform enables all systems and channels to share all data in real time, and that way creates one truth.
According to us at Sitoo the best Unified Commerce Platforms enable the following:
- Unified backend and frontend retail systems
- All supporting retail systems and functionality within a retailer’s ecosystem (e.g. CRM, ERP, OMS, Recommendations, PIM, Product database) work together and share information in real time.
- All sales channels (e.g. stores, ecommerce, marketplaces, social channels, etc.) work together and share information in real time.
- Unified product information
- Unified product information and images
- Unified custom attributes
- Unified prices including the handling of taxes
- Unified price lists
- Unified campaigns
- Unified inventory
- Unified stock visibility
- Cross-channel stock accessibility
- Cross-channel real-time stock adjustments
- Unified purchase, fulfillment and return processes
- Cross-channel purchase processes
- Omnichannel fulfillment processes
- Cross-channel return processes
- Unified order information (true omni orders)
- Unified payments with delayed capture
- Omnichannel gift cards
- Unified 360° customer data
- Unified insights
To facilitate easy integration, flexibility and speedy evolution, the best Unified Commerce Platforms are built with modern future-proof technology. A cloud-native SaaS platform means that all updates are automatically available and that there’s only one version of the software. Being born and built in the cloud, the platform enables dynamic scalability, little to no maintenance and high level performance and security. A platform built with an API-first approach and Microservices, ensures integrations are easy and that deployment is fast. Modern technology also makes your retail operations more cost efficient.
The most effective way to make great omnichannel retail a reality – and to deliver on your omnichannel strategy – is through a Unified Commerce Platform and preferably a Unified Commerce Platform anchored by POS. The platform acts as the centerpiece of the building blocks and ensures all your systems can talk to each other in real time.
Chapter 8: What is a Unified Commerce Platform anchored by POS?
With a Unified Commerce Platform anchored by POS all stores are, by default, connected in real time. It enables out-of-the-box omnichannel sales and returns between all stores – where the platform acts as the hub for the omnichannel commerce flows between the stores.
Once you’ve connected your stores with your online sales channel, through the Unified Commerce Platform, you get real-time product, inventory, order, payment and customer data across all touch points. When this happens it empowers your store associates by giving them everything they need to deliver a seamless omnichannel customer experience. Your store associates become the central and driving part of delivering a continuous cross-channel customer journey.
With a Unified Commerce Platforms anchored by POS all the unified commerce capabilities of the platform are being channeled through the Point of Sale – turning it into a point of service.
To truly empower the store associates and make the stores a central part of unified customer experiences, the POS itself requires additional omnichannel and unified commerce functionality that needs to be enabled by the platform. Again these functionalities can either be enabled by built-in functionality or by customizing the POS through integration.
According to us at Sitoo, the best Unified Commerce Platforms anchored by POS need to enable the following additional, omnichannel and unified commerce, functionality related to the POS:
- Unified user and authorization management
- Unified cash register management
- In-store inventory management functionality like stocktaking, receiving shipments, sending shipments, automated transfers triggered by reason codes, etc..
- In-store handling of omnichannel orders
- Unified last mile deliveries
- Local and cross-channel product search
- Product search connected to external product databases
- Cross-channel sales tools
- Upsell and cross-sell functionality
- Digital and physical receipts
- Handling of tax free
- Handling of insurances relating to products
- Unified service orders
- Integrated CRM functionality
- Assisted selling and Clienteling tools
- Unified customer notifications
- Automated End of day reports
- Integration to a wide range of local and global payment methods
- Workforce management functionality
- Unified reports
- Dashboards with KPIs based on all data related to a store like local transactional data, omnichannel orders, visitor count data, loyalty data and current and historical budget data.
A Unified Commerce Platform anchored by POS exists to make your life as a retailer easier, to make your store associates happier and to make your customers consistently delighted with the experience they have when they shop with you, and to make your omnichannel retail business more efficient.
Chapter 9: The biggest benefits of omnichannel
Let’s not beat around the bush here; the end-game of omnichannel commerce is to increase sales.
As an ambitious global retailer, if you can deliver on your brand promise (and give your customers what they want when they want it) then you’ll create trust and ultimately increase loyalty and sales.
A unified cross-channel experience (omnichannel experience) is essential to building this trust and loyalty… and to optimizing sales. With the same information everywhere and with real-time adjustments across all touchpoints, you can provide a fluid omnichannel customer experience that traverses both online and physical channels.
Omnichannel retail will help you increase sales by …
1. Giving you the tools to deliver a market-leading customer experience
With a 360° view of your customer’s order history and their interaction with your brand, you can deliver a great personalized service and connect with your customers in a relevant and engaging way. Your customers want all prices, stock levels, orders, and the information you hold on them to be unified. This requires all your systems to work together in harmony.
Your physical stores have to integrate seamlessly with each other and with all your online sales channels. Without this, your customers won’t have choice, convenience, or a good experience.
2. Improving customer lifetime value & loyalty
When you put your customers first (which is what great omnichannel retail does), you’re going to make them happy. And happy customers are loyal customers. Give your customers a great omnichannel experience and, not only will they return to buy from you again and again, they’ll tell people how good you are and send even more business your way.
3. Improved footfall and upsell opportunities
Omnichannel can help drive and improve your footfall. For example, if you can offer click-and-collect and also accept and process online returns in-store, it gives your customers a reason to visit your stores. Once they are through your doors and interacting with your store associates it gives you more upsell and cross-sell opportunities through the power of assisted selling.
4. Empowering store associates
By giving your store associates the right tools (like a Unified Commerce Platform anchored by POS) you transform their role in your stores. They have, in the palm of their hands, the tools to give your customers what they want, whenever they want it. Because they have the right tools to do their jobs, your store associates are more engaged, happier and more productive – which combine to further improve the omnichannel experience they give your customers.
5. Improving inventory visibility & turnover
When you have real-time visibility of your inventory you get a better understanding of your stock levels, you can reduce wastage and it’s easier to see where your inventory needs to be replenished.
With a single real-time view of all in-store, online and ‘elsewhere’ inventory and built-in inventory management tools, a Unified Commerce Platform makes it easier for you to improve accuracy, maximize inventory availability and minimize excess inventory. Unified stock allows you to optimize stock flows and deliver on all omnichannel retail scenarios to provide your customers with a unified shopping experience.
6. Enhanced fulfillment
In terms of fulfillment, great omnichannel commerce helps you meet your customers’ needs in a cost efficient way.
It amplifies your store fulfillment possibilities with Click-and-Collect (BOPIS), Click-and-Reserve (ROBIS), Endless Aisle and buy, reserve and pickup in other stores.
It also helps you turn your stores into fulfillment centers, meaning ecommerce orders can be shipped from your stores and that stores can ship orders placed in other stores. All your stores should be able to be used as fulfillment centers. And all inventory should always be available to sell everywhere.
Not only does turning your stores into fulfillment centers make you more efficient and result in a better service for customers, it’s also more sustainable as it cuts down on shipping from centralized distribution centers.
With ecommerce sales soaring it’s also important for the stores to handle returns of goods bought online (BORIS) – which great omnichannel retail does. It will keep the costs for returns down and also stimulate upsales.
7. Better and deeper insights
With a fully integrated front and back end alongside centralized data, you’ll be able to get better insights and understand your customers much better than you’ve ever been able to before.
For example, when all your software solutions are integrated, you could send customer feedback straight back to the POS and loyalty system. This means, the next time a customer comes into the store, your store associates can see in the POS system the history of feedback from that particular customer.
If, for instance, the customer had consistently given green feedback apart from their previous two visits – which had been red feedback – then your store associate could do something about it.
They could say ‘Hey, I can see the last couple of times you came to see us you didn’t have the kind of experience we’d expect you to have. So, to make up for that I’m going to give you 15% off your purchases today.’
By doing this, the store associate is able to deliver a unique omnichannel experience and transform the customer’s mindset from a negative one to a positive one. This is only possible with the level of insights great omnichannel retail gives you.
Conclusion & Summary
Omnichannel retail, powered by modern software, isn’t just the future of retail, it’s the here and now. As shoppers, we have more choice than we’ve ever had before and if a brand or a retailer doesn’t meet our expectations we’ll likely move on to a retailer that does.
As a retailer, it’s your responsibility to give your customers the kind of omnichannel experiences they want and to deliver on your customer promise. If you do, everyone wins. Your customers get what they want and you get loyal, happy customers who will keep coming back to you to spend their money.
Investing in a Unified Commerce Platform anchored by POS, that is built with modern MACH-technology, is how you achieve the ultimate version of omnichannel retail. If you do this you not only give your customers what they want every single time, you streamline your retail operations and make life a dream for your store associates.
It’s an investment which we know pays for itself over and over again.
The power is in your hands and if you’re ready to turn great omnichannel retail into a reality then we’re here to help you.
Take the first steps