It’s a fine line giving shoppers what they want. Consumer expectations for what it means to shop have changed. Today’s expectations include in-store and online, and demands continue to evolve. On one hand, many want to be left alone when they shop—free to discover products on their own; others expect a much more personalized experience—one in which their customer profiles are easily identified and catered to.
Identifying how your customers want to be treated and then delivering on that experience means continuously improving the integration between in-store, online, and enterprise operations. For any retailer with both an online and physical store, there can no longer be any separation between the two. This is the essence of a new retail model called unified commerce—the next generation of omnichannel.
Unified commerce centers around what’s right for your customers. For some, this means providing faster delivery options by shipping more inventory from stores to fulfill online sales. Some will convert stores into virtual show rooms and ship store purchases from nearby warehouses. Others will rely on data and technology to help store associates understand personal details about their in-store shoppers.
It’s a fine line giving shoppers what they want.
The ultimate goal of unified commerce is to enable deeper engagement with consumers and a more holistic approach to the customer journey. No matter where an order starts or ends, the customer has visibility to it—it’s a fluid transaction.
That means retailers are connecting with customers long before they get to the store or website, and continuing to engage long after they leave. In some cases, the customer may never even enter the store. Sometimes the journey begins on social media and results in a digital transaction and follow through.
End-to-end engagement helps complete more sales. And today, that’s crucial. For example, imagine a customer walks into your store looking for size 9 shoes in black. If you leave that customer on the sales floor to go check in the stock room, she now has the ability to look online and find a competitor that will deliver them to her home—maybe even for less money.
Instead, giving sales associates a mobile device to look up inventory and make sure it’s in stock, or even using a walkie talkie to ask a runner to find the right shoe, will keep your associate engaged with your customer. If inventory isn’t available, the associate can help the customer order it online from your own store, not the competition, without losing the face-to-face interaction.
Unified commerce centers around what’s right for your customers.
Delivering a personalized in-store experience requires a level of access to customer data and history. If associates know what brands their customers like, and whether they might be looking for cocktail dresses or sweat pants, those sales associates will be more prepared and knowledgeable at the point of purchase.
The technology to make better sense of customer data is getting smarter all the time. Artificial intelligence (AI) can make a pretty good guess at what might be the next thing you’ll want to buy. AI is starting to anticipate what you might need in the spring based on the products you bought in the winter, for example.
As the technology and the data improve, you will someday soon walk into a grocery store and they'll have your shopping list in their app. They’ll give you the recipe of the day, based on your dinner preferences, and let you know that salmon is on sale and where to find the ingredients in the store. Imagine going to a different store the next week that doesn't have all that information. Which one will you choose going forward?
Nobody gives you private details about themselves without expecting something in return.
Providing that level of value will be essential for capturing and keeping customers. Nobody gives you private details about themselves without expecting something in return, whether it is a personalized coupon, cash back, or a special sales event. But they will give you information in exchange for something of value. Access to accurate, real-time consumer information will be the difference between meeting and missing customer expectations.
A business built around unified commerce takes time and money. It has to start as a corporate philosophy, a directive from the top that says we're going to make sure that we engage our customers in a holistic and personalized way. Businesses that choose to avoid next-generation retail won’t evolve; they also won't be around in three years.
Tell Us More
What’s one piece of advice you’d give that you’d follow?
Slow down to deliver quality not quantity. Social media has made it more important than ever to deliver quality products. Having a gap in your customer experience story is much better than having a sub-par product experience.
What’s something we, as an industry, aren’t talking about that we should be?
Leading retailers have spent time focusing on the overlap of real-time information and the internet of things to improve analytics and a personalized experience. The leaders understand the difference between managing transactional data and analytic data. The roll we do not talk about enough is the often-missing position of Enterprise Data Architect. Companies in many industries, and especially in retail, who do not have this position defined in their organization spend large amounts of money on duplicated, inaccurate data, trying to reconcile disparate systems and reports, and trying to repair the business’s confidence in the reporting and analytic systems.
What’s a product that you now buy online but thought you never would?
What’s a product that you now don’t think you’ll ever buy online?
Any type of footwear. I have to try on too many to get the right fit.
You’re a new addition to a crayon box. What color are you?
Dark Blue. It is a clear and sharp color. Always positive and trying to shed light on new things.