Unified Commerce Platform: Common Goal, Uncommon Reality

While retailers are embracing the concept of unified commerce, with three out of four planning to have a single commerce platform within three years, the majority of organizations have yet to fully commit to this technology in 2016.

Only 23% of North American retailers have implemented a unified commerce platform, according to Boston Retail Partners (BRP).

A unified commerce platform generally consists of these elements:


  • Centralized inventory management;

  • Order management;

  • Integrated CRM capabilities;

  • Real-time data reporting and analysis; and

  • Predictive analytics.

As many as 90% of retailers plan to include the first three elements as part of their unified commerce platform, illustrating that they are aware of the tools necessary to optimize the customer journey.

“The customer journey can be simple or complex and can be different for each customer and each individual purchase,” said Brian Brunk, a Principal at Boston Retail Partners. “It’s not important that we have specific labels for these scenarios such as webrooming or showrooming, but simply that we understand that the customer journey is one that is very dynamic. As retailers we have the opportunity to optimize and enhance this experience to drive increased customer loyalty. This is why ‘start anywhere, end anywhere’ cross-channel capabilities are so important, like enabling a unified or shared shopping cart across channels.”

BRP conducted the survey, titled: 2016 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Benchmark Survey, in March and April of 2016, contacting more than 500 top North American retailers. With the results, the consulting firm was able gain insight into retailers’ planned initiatives and priorities and identify future trends.

Prioritize The Five E’s of Customer Experience

When it comes to building out this customer experience, the two top priorities of today’s retailers are tied: creating a seamless experience across channels (51%) and optimizing the customer experience (51%). Additionally, 44% of retailers consider it a high priority to increase customer loyalty. 

The report indicated that creating this type of environment requires retailers to adopt the “E⁵ of Customer Experience”: 

  • Educate – Offer customers the tools to evaluate and research brand and products;

  • Engage – Identify the customer early at any touch points and have a plan that leverages customer information to deliver a personalized experience;

  • Execute – Deliver unified commerce capabilities and empower associates with tools that optimize the experience;

  • Enhance – Gather customer experience feedback to understand customers’ likes and dislikes, allowing for a continuous improvement loop; and

  • Enablers – Put the appropriate technology in place for the retailer to succeed.


Overcoming Obstacles To Unification

One reason for the disparity between plans and reality in building unified commerce platforms is the range of challenges cited by survey respondents. These include budget constraints (64%), IT and business resource constraints (51%) and disparate systems (49%). But taking no action at all can come at a high cost, especially as consumer expectations continue to increase.

The report included advice for overcoming these major e-Commerce obstacles, including:

  • Develop a balanced strategy that will cost-justify the expense;

  • Identify profit acceleration opportunities that can self-fund future investments;

  • Develop a realistic, customer-centric timeline that doesn’t focus on the back office; and

  • Avoid relying on hard savings to justify IT investment.

“This ‘hard savings’ approach is shortsighted and often ignores innovative projects and investments in the future,” the report stated. “Retailers should consider the ‘soft benefits’ of investments in innovative technology — like a single commerce platform — to drive increased satisfaction and sales. It is our belief that successful retailers will use soft analysis as a determinant for infrastructure investments, utilizing innovative technology to create overall better customer experience.”


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