In the dynamic world of digital commerce, businesses are constantly exploring innovative strategies to engage with their customers, streamline operations, and enhance overall business performance. Two concepts that have emerged and gained prominence in this space are 'Unified Commerce' and 'Omnichannel.' Though these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they represent two distinct approaches to orchestrating the customer journey.
As we continue to witness the rapid evolution of customer expectations, it becomes crucial to grasp the nuances between these two models. Both are driven by the same ambition: to deliver a seamless and personalized customer experience across multiple touchpoints. However, the methodology and execution behind each vary significantly.
In this blog post, we will take a deep dive into the realm of Unified Commerce and Omnichannel strategies, exploring their origins, advantages, limitations, and crucially, how they differ. This understanding will not only help businesses decide which strategy aligns best with their objectives but also illustrate how they can enhance the customer journey in today's fiercely competitive digital landscape.
Definition of Unified Commerce
Unified commerce is a business model that prioritizes a seamless and consistent customer experience across all channels and touchpoints, from physical stores to online platforms, call centers, mobile apps, and more.
Unlike the multichannel or omnichannel approach, unified commerce goes a step further by not only providing multiple touchpoints but also ensuring these channels are interconnected, with real-time, unified visibility into all aspects of the business.
Definition of Omnichannel Commerce
Omnichannel commerce is a multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience, whether they're shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a physical store.
The omnichannel approach interconnects every channel to engage with customers no matter where they are in the buying process. It integrates and aligns all channels of shopping and communication, including brick-and-mortar stores, online shops, phone services, social media platforms, email marketing, and others.
Unlike a multichannel strategy, where each platform may operate as a standalone channel for customers to make purchases, an omnichannel strategy ensures consistency of customer experience and messaging across every channel. It essentially integrates physical and digital touchpoints to deliver a consistent, unified customer experience.
While similar to unified commerce, omnichannel commerce tends to focus more on the customer experience across channels, while unified commerce typically emphasizes the integration of all backend processes on a single platform. However, the two terms are often used interchangeably and the lines between them can be blurry.
What is the Difference Between Unified Commerce and Omnichannel Commerce
Unified commerce integrates all business operations and channels onto a single platform for a truly seamless customer and business experience, while omnichannel commerce focuses on providing a consistent customer experience across various, potentially disconnected channels.
There are also other key differences between the two:
The concept of unified commerce involces a single platform where all data is centralized , this data may include all sales and customer engagement data. Thanks to the this, a real-time and consistent information flow can be sustained on all channels. Whereas in the omnichannel retailing, there are multiple systems harmonically working together. Although being synchronized, this type of systems may lead to information silos and delays.
Data Accessibility and Real-Time Updates
With unified commerce, all updates happen real-time on all touchpoints. For example, when there is a purchase, the stock change is reflected on all the platforms in the system. In omnichannel retailing on the other hand, due to different platforms being used, changes and updates may not be reflected on every channel real time. This may cause worse user experience due to discrepancies and outdated information.
One of the key benefits of unified commerce is its capacity to enhance businesses’ personalization efforts. Thanks to unified systems, brands may present more seamless personalized experiences as they are capturing customer behavior from all the touchpoints and processing them in a single system. In contrast, omnichannel, while attempting to provide a seamless customer experience, may not be as personalized and consistent as a multichannel approach because the systems may not integrate seamlessly.
Scalability and Complexity
Unified commerce offers greater scalability as businesses can add new channels or touchpoints with ease, without needing to integrate new systems or platforms. It is less complex to manage since it operates on a single platform. In contrast, an omnichannel approach can become complex and challenging to scale, as adding a new channel may require significant effort in integrating it with existing systems.
From a system efficiency perspective, unified systems are consist of many platforms and a single system where chance of human error and maintenance costs are relatively low. In addition, working on a synced single system returns an improved efficiency due to non-complexity of the whole system. On the other hand, omnichannel systems are bearing the cost of integrating and synchronization of information from multiple sources and channels, this will eventually lead to inefficiencies and higher chance of human error.
Transitioning from Omnichannel to Unified Commerce
Almost all systems starts as omnichannel. As channels and touchpoints increase, the need of transitioning from an Omnichannel to a Unified Commerce approach emerges. However, this isn't just about adopting new technology; it's about a strategic shift that encompasses your entire organization.
As markets evolve and customer expectations rise, competition forces companies to offer better customer experience with integrated and seamless systems. Below parts will discuss why brands might consider this transition, the crucial steps towards that goal, and challenges along the way.
Why Businesses Might Consider Making the Transition
Many businesses consider unified commerce approach for the following reasons:
Enhanced Customer Experience
With an unified system, brands offers more seamless and consistent customer experience across all their touchpoints.
Real-Time, Single View of Customer
In order to get a holistic view of the customer, offer real-time updates, present better personalization, unified commerce systems are used as they improve the effectiveness of the whole customer facing services like marketing.
Improved Operational Efficiency
The unified commerce platform operates on a single platform for all channels, eliminating the complexity of integrating multiple systems.
Increased Business Agility
Businesses can adapt more quickly to changes in the market or customer behavior when all systems are integrated into one.
Key Steps in the Transition
There are several steps involved in transitioning to unified commerce.
Understand Business Requirements
It's important to understand your business requirements and goals before starting the transition, and how unified commerce can help.
Choose the Right Platform
Make sure that you choose a platform that offers robust analytics and reporting, allows you to scale your business, and integrates all your channels.
Develop a Migration Plan
Describe the transition in detail, including timelines, responsibilities, and key milestones.
Train Your Staff
Make sure your team understands the new platform and its benefits. They should be instructed on how to effectively use the new system.
Test and Iterate
Test the new system carefully to identify any issues or areas for improvement.
Potential Challenges and Solutions
While moving from omnichannel to unified commerce, brands may encounter some challenges:
Integrating data from multiple systems can raise security concerns. There a lot of platform alternatives with unified systems, so It's crucial to choose a platform with security measures and to ensure compliance with all relevant data protection regulations.
It is best to get consultation from experts when brands want to migrate their systems to unified commerce systems as integration of multiple systems is complex with every addition of touchpoints.
Resistance to Change
New systems may cause employees to resist change. This resistance can be overcome with clear communication and adequate training about the new system's benefits.
Upfront investments can be significant when switching to a unified commerce platform. Customer satisfaction and improved efficiency can contribute to long-term savings, so consider the long-term ROI.
Potential Future Trends And Directions For Both Strategies
Digital commerce ecosystem is changing rapidly. So, businesses need to adapt their strategies and way of workings to find their places in this ecosystem. Whether omnichannel or unified commerce, both systems are dynamic and shaped by market itself. Therefore, below parts will explore the trends for both strategies.
The Future of Omnichannel
In the future, omnichannel will likely continue to evolve to offer increasingly seamless and personalized customer experiences. Trends in this area may include:
Data analytics and artificial intelligence are allowing businesses to better understand customer behavior, enabling them to offer even more personalized services.
Brands may need to include voice to their omnichannel strategy as a new channel as smart speakers and voice assistants grow in popularity.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
The integration of augmented and virtual reality technologies into the omnichannel experience could enable customers to virtually try products or experience services before they buy them.
Social commerce is a thing now as social media platforms are integrating shopping features into their experiences day by day. This will become a more prominent part of omnichannel strategies.
The Future of Unified Commerce
Despite being a relatively new concept, Unified Commerce is likely to gain popularity as businesses simplify their operations and offer seamless customer experiences. Among the potential future directions of unified commerce are:
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
These technologies can help businesses automate tasks, gain insights from their data, and deliver more personalized experiences, all of which can enhance the effectiveness of a unified commerce strategy.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT devices can play an important role in unified commerce by providing new ways to engage with customers and gather data. For instance, smart devices in customers' homes can reorder products automatically when they are running low.
By improving transparency, security, and traceability in transactions blockchain can enhance unified commerce.
With sustainability gaining more importance for consumers, businesses should start taking into account how to incorporate sustainable practices with their unified commerce strategies, such as via reducing waste in product delivery.