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Submitted by Retail Insights on 16 September 2020

The Benefit Of Unified Commerce During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the retail landscape significantly and caused customer behavior to change for the long term. Customers are relying less on brick-and-mortar stores, resulting in unprecedented growth in eCommerce. However, despite the major differences in shopping habits, customers still want it all, and you have the ability to give it to them with a unified commerce approach.  

Gartner defines unified commerce as “the practice of providing flexibility, continuity, and consistency across digital and physical channels to deliver a superior customer experience.”

Learn more about unified commerce

Put The Customer Experience at the Center

It is important to understand that customers do not think in terms of channels. When they interact with businesses, they expect consistent information and the same quality of service, no matter if they are purchasing online, in a store or through a call center. They also expect to be recognized and given information, advice, and offers that are relevant to them.

Providing unified commerce across all your sales channels doesn’t simply mean having the same look and feel. It also means providing the same access to information, the same level of personalized service, and the same seamless, high-quality experience at all times, on all channels.

Unified Commerce Requires Flexibility 

Shopping today is not what it used to be a few decades or even a few months ago. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, trips to the mall have been replaced with shopping during micro-moments as time is available. A shopper might use a clothing store app to flip through new arrivals while waiting for an appointment, check current sales and offers of their favorite brands during their lunch break, and in the evening, look up online details of the products they saw while “window shopping” earlier in the day.

To stay top of mind with today’s consumers, you must be present and available during all these shopping micro-moments—and to deliver the instant and expected shopping experience and provide necessary product information, your eCommerce, point of sale, back office, and inventory systems must be able to communicate. With unified commerce, all information is shared from a single database. This means you can give real-time, transparent, reliable product details at all times, on all touchpoints.

Unified Commerce Allows You to Know Your Customers 

Every day, retailers collect a large amount of valuable information on consumer preferences and habits through website visits, in-store purchases and returns, items favorited by loyal consumers, and more. With unified commerce, all this valuable customer data is collected in one place. This unified view provides timely insights into your customer base, which you can leverage to:

  • Suggest relevant products
  • Deliver personalized communications
  • Tailor the shopping experience to your customers’ expectations

With real-time data from all your locations and touchpoints, you can also predict shopping behavior. If you then use your analytics tools to cross-reference your findings with external trends and data, you can predict spikes in purchases, upcoming trends, and ultimately know what your customers want before they even know it themselves.

Give Consumers the Visibility They Demand

A study by the IBM Institute for Business Value reported that 66% of consumers want to know that the item they are looking for is available before they even enter a store. Also, as many as 88% of consumers research and select options online before heading out to a store, according to a recent report by the Ecommerce Foundation. That’s why inventory visibility and transparency of information across all touchpoints have become must-haves, while unexpected out-of-stocks are increasingly seen as
unacceptable. 

With a unified platform, it’s easy to fulfill customers’ expectations and avoid a disappointed – and perhaps lost – customer. When all your locations are managed through a single system, information is shared and distributed instantly to all touchpoints. This means both your staff and customers have access to the same, real-time data, including what stock is available, where, and even how many items are left in each location. 

Easily Manage Returns Across All Channels

Your relationship with your customers doesn’t end once a purchase has taken place. Post-purchase experiences such as product returns and exchanges are fundamental in strengthening loyalty. Is it hard for your customers to return an item they didn’t like? Or do your stores accept and exchange products bought online? According to research from Shopify, 67% of shoppers check the return policy before buying from a retailer. 

The MIT Sloan Management Review conducted a research comparing customers who had made legitimate product returns and customers who never return items. The results were surprising: people who never make product returns tend to buy less overall and have a significantly lower lifetime profitability for retailers. Offering across-channel exchanges and returns is therefore increasingly essential to guarantee consumer satisfaction.

However, with traditional, disconnected systems, returns in multiple locations and channels can be complex to handle. If inventory is maintained in a separate database for each store, accepting a return in a store location other than the one where it was sold can cause confusion, lost inventory, and increased complexity with accounting. Even worse, your system might not allow you to accept items that were sold in another store.

A unified commerce solution gives you the across-channel visibility you need to offer the quick, flexible service expected today. As key information, such as the customer’s purchase history, inventory availability across the enterprise, and loyalty data, are maintained in one database, you can easily accept returns in all your locations. No hassle for the consumer – and no confusion or lost stock for you.

Offer Experiences That Go Beyond Traditional Retail

In an effort to add new revenue streams during the coronavirus pandemic, and to maintain steady customer interest, many retailers have been expanding beyond pure retailing. A great way to create a community around your brand and satisfy your customers’ desire to learn something new is to offer virtual workshops and training sessions.

With social distancing top of mind, staying connected is now more important than ever. Many customers are also relying on social media to stay in touch with friends, be entertained, and learn the latest news. That’s why using social media to keep customers informed during COVID-19 is also a useful channel. 

At ArcherPoint, we’re commitment to supporting you as we navigate these uncertain times together. To learn more, subscribe to our eNewsletter or talk to one of our sales consultants today.