If there’s one thing that separates a good ecommerce store from a great one it’s efficiency, whether that be in their supply chain, fulfillment solution, or customer service. The need for operational efficiency has never been more important.
But how can today’s brands achieve operational efficiency? One solution is to implement a backend solution that synchronizes data from multiple channels — providing a unified view of operations.
Having a single source of truth offers businesses an easy way to view how much inventory is coming in or going out, how many sales are being generated from each channel, and where any bottlenecks might be occurring.
This is exactly what unified commerce is all about. In this article, we’ll break down the concept of unified commerce, its benefits, and why it’s becoming the gold standard for ecommerce businesses.
What is unified commerce?
Unified commerce is the practice of connecting your frontend and backend systems into one centralized platform. This setup feeds data from your online store, retail partnerships, and other customer-facing channels to the same backend platform that manages your inventory, sales data, customer relationships, analytics, and more.
Instead of operating in silos, where each channel might have its own separate system and data source, unified commerce ensures all channels are speaking the same language, enabling a seamless retail experience for customers and creating a single source of truth for data.
The importance of unified commerce
Unified commerce gives you a complete view of your business operations which boosts efficiency. For example, let’s say you have one system tracking your online sales and another tracking retail sales. If a human is manually updating the inventory numbers for the online portion of the business based on what’s sold in-store, there’s room for error.
But, with unified commerce, all sales channels automatically feed into a single omnichannel order management system, reducing mistakes and ensuring accurate stock counts. Additionally, this centralization saves time, cuts costs, and allows for better decision-making by providing a clear picture of sales trends and customer preferences across all platforms.
Why are we talking about unified commerce?
In today’s age of instant gratification, consumers expect seamless, swift, and personalized experiences while businesses seek efficiency, accuracy, and detailed insights. Unified commerce caters to this new paradigm shift for both parties and having the right backend system in place is key to achieving it.
Take the tattoo tool company Black Claw, for example. They went from working with three different 3PLs in three different countries to consolidating their entire fulfillment operation under one unified fulfillment partner.
“We had 3 ecommerce stores connected to 3 different 3PL warehouse management systems, and I had to work 60 hours a week to keep up. All of our backend work had to be done 3 times and wasn’t always consistent.”– Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC
Healthcare brand Baby Doppler tried using several different 3PLs, but none of them were able to provide them with a holistic view of their inventory data. This lack of uniformity led to a reduction in inventory movement visibility.
“We worked with some large fulfillment providers as well as some smaller 3PLs, and none of them gave us unified data, let us look at inventory holistically, or enabled us to see which inventory was moving and where.”– Mithu Kuna, Co-Founder & CEO of Baby Doppler
With a leaner, more efficient backend system businesses are able to operate with stronger margins — improving the overall viability of the business.
Unified commerce vs. omnichannel commerce
On the surface, the terms “unified commerce” and “omnichannel commerce” may seem interchangeable. However, they each come with their own set of intricacies.
An omnichannel customer experience is one of the components of unified commerce however the unified commerce approach takes the omnichannel model a step further.
Let’s take a closer look:
- Single platform: Unified commerce operates on a single platform that centralizes all business operations, including sales, customer data, inventory management, testimonial collection, etc.
- Real-time data: One of the distinct features of unified commerce is real-time data synchronization. This ensures that inventory levels, customer profiles, and sales data are updated instantly across all channels.
- Simpler integration: Because it relies on a singular platform, unified commerce typically requires fewer integrations and less complex ecommerce infrastructure.
- Consistent experience: With one unified commerce platform, customers receive a consistent experience irrespective of the channel they use. From product prices to promotions — everything remains uniform.
- Streamlined operations: Unified commerce often leads to more efficient and streamlined business operations due to reduced redundancy.
- Multiple platform integration: Omnichannel retail often operates on multiple platforms that are integrated to work together. While they aim to offer a seamless customer experience, they don’t necessarily provide a single, real-time view of operations.
- Complex IT infrastructure: Omnichannel strategies often require complex integrations between different systems, such as point of sale (POS) systems, ecommerce platforms, and CRM systems.
- Potential for silos: While omnichannel seeks to break down silos, the use of multiple platforms can sometimes lead to isolated pockets of data or operational inefficiencies.
- Adaptable to customer journey: Omnichannel commerce is designed to adapt to the various stages of a customer’s shopping journey. It ensures that customers can switch between channels effortlessly, picking up where they left off.
What you need to know about unified commerce
Adopting a unified commerce strategy, in many cases, is the preferred route for most modern businesses. However, there are still specific considerations to keep in mind. Let’s break down step by step what a unified commerce strategy entails.
Purpose of unified commerce
Unified commerce primarily aims to offer a single source of truth for your data so you can provide a holistic customer experience. This way, customers receive consistent prices, product availability, and delivery times regardless of what channel they’re shopping through.
If you aren’t currently selling on multiple sales channels, then it isn’t as important to implement a unified commerce strategy because you’re already seeing a single view. If you sell through a single channel and only have one backend platform then you are unified.
However, keep in mind that if you want to start selling through multiple channels, your operations process may become increasingly complex, at which point you may want to proactively establish a unified commerce strategy before things get too intricate.
How does it work?
Unlike traditional retail setups that might rely on multiple platforms, unified commerce operates on a single integrated platform.
A big component of what sets unified commerce apart from other retail models is its real-time data synchronization across all channels. This ensures that every touchpoint — be it in-store, online, through a mobile app, or a third-party marketplace (like Amazon or Etsy) — reflects the most current information.
What needs to be done?
Assuming a business is currently using another model (such as multi-channel) a few high-level things need to be completed to migrate over to the unified commerce model:
- System integration: The first step involves integrating all existing systems — like ecommerce sites, mobile apps, POS systems, and inventory management tools—into a singular platform.
- Data migration and cleaning: Once integrated, the data from various sources must be migrated and standardized to maintain uniformity.
- Training: Employees (everyone from sales teams to marketing personnel) need thorough training on the new system’s nuances.
Who is responsible for what?
When implementing a unified commerce model, the responsibilities each department must undertake will vary depending on the business’s size. However, in general, the IT department usually spearheads system integration and addresses technical challenges.
The marketing and sales teams are primarily responsible for leveraging the platform to enhance customer interactions. They’ll use data insights to craft campaigns, sales strategies, and engagement tactics.
Inventory managers will analyze the unified data to better forecast demand, manage stock levels, and coordinate with suppliers.
Measuring success and KPIs
To truly understand the success and impact of a unified commerce strategy, businesses need to have clear metrics in place. Key performance indicators (KPIs) serve as the compass, guiding the direction and allowing for strategic adjustments based on real-world data. Here are a few KPIs to track:
- Customer satisfaction: This can be measured through feedback forms, reviews, net promoter scores (NPS), and customer support interactions.
- Average order value (AOV): By centralizing operations and offering consistent experiences, unified commerce might lead to customers purchasing more or higher-value items.
- Cross-channel sales: A rise in cross-channel sales indicates that customers are actively engaging with the brand through multiple touchpoints, signifying the success of the integration.
- Customer retention and lifetime value: A well-implemented unified commerce approach should boost customer loyalty, leading to repeated purchases, and increased lifetime value.
- Operational efficiency: Decreased inventory errors, reduced staff training time, and quicker transaction times can all be indicators of the system’s success on the operational side.
Future trends and scalability
The key to success using a unified commerce strategy lies in adaptability. As new technologies emerge and consumer behaviors shift, businesses must prioritize platforms that are flexible, scalable, and can automate mundane tasks.
Take the increasing influence of AI and machine learning, for example. Choosing a platform that remains ahead of the curve in terms of innovation will ensure that you can take advantage of these advancements to further differentiate yourself from the competition.
Benefits of unified commerce for businesses
Competition breeds innovation, and these days, retail behemoths like Amazon and Walmart have the ability to offer customers an unparalleled shopping experience. So ecommerce brands need to adopt new technologies, partners, and sales models.
Implementing a unified commerce strategy can certainly help. However, creating and managing unified commerce software is no small undertaking. Outsourcing this process to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider, for example, is one way to compete with the big guys without the stress of managing it all in-house.
Once successfully implemented, you can enjoy the following benefits:
Enhanced customer experience
Unified commerce redefines the adage “customer is king.” When you streamline operations and ensure real-time updates, customers no longer face discrepancies in product availability, pricing, promotions, or customer service. Their journey, from browsing to checkout, becomes fluid, leading to heightened satisfaction and brand loyalty.
Improved operational efficiency
The integration of systems under unified commerce cuts down redundancies. Tasks like data entry, inventory checks, and order processing become automated, leading to minimized errors, faster response times, and a reduced need for human oversight.
With unified commerce, businesses can tap into a wealth of customer data, crafting tailored promotions, and loyalty programs. This not only drives sales but also transforms one-time buyers into brand advocates.
Better data analysis and decision-making
By analyzing purchasing trends, customer behaviors, and inventory movement, businesses can forecast demand, strategize marketing campaigns, and optimize stock levels much easier than trying to juggle data from multiple platforms.
Reduced system complexity
Unified commerce consolidates various platforms into one — streamlining operations. By eliminating the need to manage multiple systems, businesses benefit from fewer errors and less troubleshooting.
Consolidating systems can decrease licensing and maintenance costs. Automated processes reduce labor hours, and real-time updates prevent costly inventory mistakes and inconsistent pricing. All of these factors contribute to more efficient resource allocation and savings.
ShipBob can help you unify and centralize at scale
In the age of giants like Amazon, how do ecommerce brands compete? Enter ShipBob. By leveraging ShipBob’s fulfillment technology, retail partnerships, EDI capability, and vast network of fulfillment centers, even small-scale businesses can deliver big-league customer experiences.
With intuitive dashboards, real-time tracking, and seamless integration capabilities, ShipBob’s platform embodies the principles of unified commerce. Within the dashboard, you have centralized access to an abundance of data — all sorted for easy comprehension and action.
Need a brief overview of your order fulfillment status? No problem. See what items need replenishment, what’s been not picked, not packed, and more.
Using a centralized platform that connects with various sales channels empowers businesses to make informed decisions quickly. This means orders are processed faster, inventory management becomes more accurate, and customer queries can be addressed in real-time.
Get started with ShipBob
Interested in leveraging ShipBob’s fulfillment platform on your journey to unify your operations? Connect with our team to learn more and get started.
Unified commerce FAQs
Below are answers to common questions about unified commerce.
Is there a difference between omnichannel and unified commerce?
Yes, omnichannel commerce aims to offer a seamless shopping experience across multiple channels but often lacks synchronization. Unified commerce, on the other hand, integrates these avenues, providing a synchronized and seamless customer experience.
How can unified commerce benefit customers as well as businesses?
Unified commerce crafts a win-win scenario. Customers receive real-time information about product availability, prices, and delivery times. At the same time, businesses benefit from operational efficiency and rich insights.
How can ShipBob’s services help ecommerce businesses achieve a unified commerce experience?
By integrating technology and a vast network of fulfillment centers, ShipBob ensures streamlined order processing, inventory management, and shipment tracking—all centralized on one platform.