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Giada Pezzini | 29 December 2022

What is unified commerce and why you need it in your retail business

What is unified commerce and why you need it in your retail business

Point of Sale (POS), e-commerce, CRM, inventory management... many retailers employ a patchwork of disconnected business applications to run their business. These software systems are often connected through custom-made integrations, and as a consequence they cannot communicate information seamlessly with each other. Retailers who use many disconnected applications are often unable to deliver the personalized, omni-channel experience customers expect when they shop. Today’s retailers are collecting an unprecedented amount of data throughout their various touchpoints, from the e-commerce site, to loyalty programs, Point of Sale, and more. To be able to deliver personalized communications and offers, retailers need software systems that keep this data in a structured manner, so they can then analyze the information and transform it into meaningful insights. This can only happen if retailers abandon the disconnected business applications that they are currently using, and which make them unable to see who their customers are, unable to follow what is going on in their business, and unable to deliver connected experiences.

In their place, they must adopt unified commerce systems.

Enter unified commerce

Unified commerce combines in one platform POS, e-commerce, order fulfillment, inventory management, customer relationship management, and much more. In the words of retail strategist Brian Brunk, “unified commerce goes beyond omni-channel, putting the customer experience first, breaking down the walls between internal channel silos and leveraging a common commerce platform.”

Here are eight ways a unified commerce platform will support your business growth, and make your life easier.

1. You don’t need to spend time and money on integrations

When you use a separate system to manage your sales, another one to handle vendors, a third one for the e-commerce site – and so on, you need to set up (and maintaining!) real-time communication between the different platforms. And that can be complex. You need to find experts who are familiar with all the software solutions involved, which isn't easy. Often, you will end up having to hire multiple people, each expert in one of the systems, and hope that they can figure out a solution. The hard part starts when you have to do an upgrade, or if something breaks down - call the experts, hope they are free and that they figure out what's wrong. Needless to say, these processes can be lengthy and expensive. When you use a unified system, you limit integrations, as most of the functionality you need is already packaged in one platform. This reduces costs (and time) involved across all the phases, from implementation to maintenance to upgrades.

2. You reduce the risk of errors

When you are using separate systems, any delay in communication and your data can get out of sync. And then, you may end up selling an item on your website when you don't have it in stock anymore, or advertising the wrong price. Classic mistakes which may lose you revenue, or even customers. When you use a single system for your whole business, all your prices, product availability, item descriptions, etc. are maintained in a single database, and then distributed to different touchpoints. This way you don’t run the risk of discrepancies or mismatches across channels.

3. You get a single version of the truth

When the entire enterprise – distribution centers, e-commerce sites, stores, HQ - runs on one platform, all departments can access, and operate on, the same data. A centralized database that stores information in a consistent and non-redundant form is the best way to gain a single version of the truth for your business. And when you have reliable figures, your financial reporting is easier, you can track their KPIs more accurately, you can see performance of products and promotions, and take decisions that will benefit the business faster and more confidently.

4. Staff training is quicker

When you have to train new employees on many different software systems, onboarding new staff can take a lot of time and effort. And if you are using different software solutions in each department, you can’t easily move employees across tasks, as they'll need extra training. This used to be a big problem at Blue Mountain, the largest ski resort in Ontario, Canada. To run its operations, which range from catering, to retail stores, to rentals, to restaurants, hotels and more, Blue Mountain used to run 26 different systems. Every type of operation had its own system. As a result, when employees were moved from one role to another, even just to substitute a colleague pn leave, they had to be re-trained. This meant that a temporary change of functions was impractical and unprofitable for the company. A few years ago, Blue Mountain decided to get rid of its 26 systems, and implemented a unified commerce platform – LS Central. Fast forward to today. Employees only have to be taught to use one system, Blue Mountain has reduced its training costs, and the company can now move people across stations quickly, as needed.

5. Management gets real-time, accurate information

When the business is run on a single platform, HQ gets a holistic overview of its processes, from sales to purchasing, to allocation, to pricing and warehouse management. This real-time visibility gives management the ability to act quickly if needed. So if you are running a big sale, you can track the progress in real time for all your store locations. Say that one of your locations is getting out of stock for some product categories - from HQ, or wherever you are, you can see exactly what products are getting sold out, and can call the warehouse, order the items you need, and get an emergency next-day delivery to that store. 

6. You can offer a true omni-channel experience

Customers come back again and again when you give them great shopping experiences and accurate, consistent information and services. Online and in-person shopping are two sides of the same medal: customers visit your website to check inventory availability in your stores. They buy online, but then decide to pick up the item in one of your store locations. They visit a store, order an out-of-stock item, and ask for it to be delivered at home. They want the freedom to return in-store what they bought online. A unified commerce platform enables you to offer all of this, and more. By managing all channels within the same platform, you can not only keep track of everything that is going on in your business; you can also allow customers to shop as and where they prefer, with no hitches or disconnects in their shopping journey.

7. You get a 360-degree view of your customers

In a traditional retail chain, each store location uploads files to the head office at the end of day. With this kind of setup, you often end up with missing or incomplete customer information. To make things worse, some companies don’t maintain a single customer database. With client records (sales per client, payments, etc.) stored across separate systems, these companies often end up with duplicate records and missing information. By storing all customer information in one database and allowing associates in different locations to access it in real time, retailers can get greater value from their data. For example, they can understand what their customer base is buying and where, and what promotions and prices they are receiving. Once analyzed with intelligence tools, this information can be used to create more effective loyalty programs – in other words, to design more effective and engaging customer experiences.

8. You only need to work with one vendor

When you use multiple systems, you will inevitably have to deal with several vendors. Selecting a unified platform means that you can take care of the whole process with a single vendor. Assuming you have chosen the right company (someone who knows your industry, understands your needs, and communicates effectively with you), dealing with one vendor instead of many can decrease complexity and overall costs. Make sure you select a trustworthy technology vendor, who will be there for you in the future and will provide you with support and updates when you need them.

Unified commerce helps overcome today’s challenges to deliver the shopping experiences that customers expect. Contact our experts to discover how unified commerce retail platform LS Central can make your retail business more effective and profitable.

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