With Unified Commerce, you will win the hearts and minds of your customers!

Developed in Asia and already very popular in Europe, Unified Commerce is almost here. Learn how this approach is already impacting your business and customers!

The global pandemic has driven the adoption and growth of ecommerce in Canada.  However, customer expectations have changed during this time as well. Customers are now looking for a friendlier and more practical shopping experience. They want a frictionless, personalized, and homogenous experience at every touch point (i.e., online or in store). For retailers, this means rethinking the business model to have a unified, customer-centric approach that breaks down silos. The next generation of this experience is Unified Commerce.

Why shift from an omnichannel model to a Unified Commerce approach?

Customer expectations have changed, and in many cases, the concept of an omnichannel experience is no longer enough. With an omnichannel approach, the customer is dealing with a retailer, but the various sales channels are often not communicating. Sometimes, they even compete against each other as they are managed in silos due to existing technology architecture and business processes.

For example, merchants frequently require customers to use certain sales channels even though this is not their preference. In addition, they make customers wait 7 to 10 days to pick up their online purchase at a store even when the merchandise is in-stock.

To adequately meet consumers’ changing expectations, we need to break down barriers and make customers – and their shopping cart – the focus for all sales channels.

In this context, retail businesses must accelerate their transformation by building a “Unified Commerce” model, offering an ultra-fluid experience and differentiating themselves through quality of service. Of course, this implies logistical and technological revolutions, but it is also a human challenge.

Key tips for successfully making the transition to Unified Commerce

At KPMG, we believe that enterprise unification (Unified Commerce) is the next frontier of long-term success for retail businesses.

By connecting the management systems of different sales channels, retailers can create more compelling customer experiences while enhancing efficiency and trimming costs. The companies that consistently achieve the best results are those that can combine their physical and digital worlds to create a seamless experience, one that is independent of the channels used, and one that puts the customer first.

1. Technology

Omnichannel companies usually offer their customers experiences that are consistent across different channels. But often the various business systems behind the scenes are not connected. This complicates cross-channel reconciliations, limiting the experiences that you can deliver to customers. Your operational agility across multiple channels, regions or, for example, between a franchisor and the franchisees, can also be hampered.

Unified Commerce is not only about rolling out the right technology platforms, but a transformation to this type of model clearly requires changes to management systems which many retailers have historically operated in silos. Today, several technological solutions have the ability to connect existing systems and provide the seamlessness and flexibility sought in Unified Commerce. It is therefore not necessary, and in most cases not even recommended, to completely overhaul your systems as a phased implementation strategy is usually more appropriate.

Take payment gateways, for example. Payments from all your channels – online, in-app and in-store – could feed into the same system. This would help you make more targeted, data-driven decisions and provide your customers with a smoother, more transparent experience. They also let you stay agile by allowing you to quickly add new channels and support new customer journeys, as everything will be connected.

Payment technologies are at the core of omnichannel transactions, and their performance is becoming critical to the digitized customer experience as well as to retailers’ strategies. KPMG believes that this underscores significant growth and retention opportunities for businesses, particularly in customer loyalty, credit, marketing, supply chain and personalization.

61% of consumers would be more loyal to a retailer that allows them to buy items online and return them to a store – but only 23% of businesses are offering this service.

2. Your corporate culture

Among the companies that are reshaping their digital transformation strategy in 2023 and beyond, long-term sustainable growth will be achieved by those that can shed their old assumptions and base decisions on real moments of truth.

Looking at the major retail trends in Asia and Europe over the last few years, it becomes clear that the old model, in which different sales channels don’t talk to each other and sometimes even compete with each other (since they are managed in silos by technology and processes) has worn out its welcome.

To adequately meet consumers’ changing expectations, we need to break down barriers and make customers – and their shopping cart – the focus for all sales and distribution channels. We need to rethink corporate governance. Customers should no longer be seen as belonging to a single channel. In fact, depending on their needs, they will use one or several different channels in their dealings with the company.

And, since customers no longer belong to a single distribution channel, we also need to reconsider how the company’s profitability is assessed and measured. Channel-specific (and competing) performance incentives need to be eliminated, while encouraging team transformations in support of a widely shared strategy to acquire and retain long-term customers.

3. The customer experience

Canadians are more loyal to retailers who use technology to enhance the shopping experience, yet at the same time, physical shops and traditional experiences remain indispensable. We know that the in-store shopping experience is here to stay. Customers clearly want to be able to interact with sales staff as well as handle and see products. But retailers who forego a fully integrated digital experience will run up against several stagnations and declining issues in the future.

A migration to Unified Commerce represents an opportunity to bring together all the relevant data on each of your customers. By knowing them better, you will be able to maximize the shopping (and service) experience for each of them, across all channels. This will have the impact of creating a more personalized experience and improving loyalty, while making your business more profitable and sustainable in the short, medium and long term.

Pitfalls to avoid

Keep in mind that moving to Unified Commerce is not just about adding some technological features. Make sure that you understand all the dimensions required for this transformation. This initiative will affect corporate culture, business strategies, technology platforms, your supply chain and distribution, the customer experience and your data strategy, and your service and sales staff, to mention just a few.

To succeed at this, a Unified Commerce model must be a priority for your entire group, starting with all the members of your executive committee and engaging your staff members involved in technology, operations, distribution and customer service (including sales) equally. A clear vision, common goals and a well-defined game plan are essential for a successful transformation.

But beware of the technological trap! There are in fact two traps that are frequently encountered. First there is the technological “Big Bang.” But you should know that it is rarely necessary to replace most of your systems for a successful transformation. Second, there are few or no technological platforms with all the functionalities needed to succeed. Take the time to conduct a proper assessment of your needs, and do not hesitate to seek support for this process. A step-by-step approach and flexible, agile platforms are often the key to success.

To conclude

In sum, keep in mind that these organizational changes are closely linked to changes in the technological management platforms that structure your business. To ensure the success of your transformation to Unified Commerce, it is important to start with a strategic planning exercise to examine the various changes that need to be made. Then, establish a game plan that emphasizes eliminating irritants to your customers. Lastly, make sure that, along the way, your new technological means will be flexible enough for you to better follow trends and respond to your customers’ emerging needs.

We hope that the ideas and recommendations in this article will help you shape, develop and achieve your ambitions for 2023 and beyond, whatever they may be.

Good luck with your transformation!

Please visit our KPMG Canada consumer and retail page to learn more about the retail sector.

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