Shopping has been known to mankind from the earliest of ages. People in the stone age used the barter system, then came to the mid-age where coins were invented and the concept of money came into existence. Since then, it has always been the battle of marketing your products to the desired audience and increasing your revenues. The battle is still on, it’s just the modernization has changed the sides which are now fighting. In the age of Unified Commerce, in one corner, there stands the e-commerce and in the second one, stands the Offline retail. Many people already believe that the rise of e-commerce is slowly and steadily crushing the long-standing brick and mortar retail. In fact, much debate has already been done on the subject of which one of them is superior. Let’s compare both of them and find the pros and cons of each one of them:
In the retail business, a company tries to sell products or services to their desired audience via offline means, i.e., Shops, Marketplace, Home Visits, etc. Also in this type of commerce the use of billboards, pamphlets, news advertising, etc. are done for marketing purposes. This causes the retailers to physically show the product to a buyer who then chooses it according to all the aspects of that product.
This type of marketing phenomenon helps shops to give customer-centric experience overall and target specific groups of people according to their geographical area.
This is a more popular type of marketing, targeted for the current and future generations. In e-commerce, a seller can either register themselves on an already established site or can start their own site to market their products. This type of buyer-seller relationship doesn’t need a physical store to set up and only requires the online portal for selling.
Buyers can then visit the site or portal and order whatever they need from there only. This type of marketing doesn’t need any kind of offline presence at all. You can even ship products from your home if you want to. But in contrast, it demands a really strong online presence.
So, after comparing both of these, we can easily say that the answer to the question of superiority takes us back to the ground zero itself. The final answer to this question is that none of them is better than another.
So, what’s the end of this debate?
There is no end really…
There’s just a need for ticking the right balance between both these channels so that buyers can get the most out of both of them. And that’s where the term “Unified Commerce” comes into play.
What is Unified Commerce?
Unified commerce is a term coined by Gartner (the biggest advisory and global research firm in the world), which describes it as:
“The practice of providing flexibility, continuity, and consistency across digital and physical channels to deliver a superior customer experience. This consistency includes multiple phases of the customer’s buying journey, including when a customer is searching, browsing for, transacting, acquiring and consuming a product or service”.
In other words, unified commerce is an equilibrium between retail and online channels of marketing, where a business is marketing both as an offline retailer and an online retailer as well. In uni-commerce, a business acts as the same entity everywhere, irrespective of the channel or platform on which it is selling its products. The term is different from previously used terms like Multichannel and Omnichannel commerce used in the past. Let’s discuss the difference between them:
In the multichannel type of commerce, a business acts as a different set of entities at each platform it sells its products on. For example: if you are selling stationery, you have the option of selling it on multiple platforms. If the name you are using for your seller account online is different from your current retail name, then this phenomenon will be counted as multichannel. Commerce via multichannel was a huge improvement over single-channel marketing, which caused a rift between eCommerce and retail, but it was full of bugs and loopholes.
Some of the major points to note while using the multichannel form of marketing are:
- It uses different names, hence each account counts as a different entity.
- There is no inter-communication between the accounts as well as the channels.
- One can change one channel, without making any changes in other ones.
- A different set of rules applies to every channel, so you have to keep a different account for each of them.
In an omnichannel way of marketing, customer can buy a product from any platform but the core entity from which customer is buying the item will always be the same. This is a huge improvement over multichannel commerce as in omnichannel, you don’t have to worry about the seller being a duplicate one. All the channels in omnichannel are given the same look and feel like the brand itself. The only chink in the armor for this type of commerce is that the channels don’t communicate with each other to share any data or sales. This leads to scenarios where a buyer might order a product from your store online. But your offline inventory will suggest the product is not in stock.
Some major points of omnichannel commerce are:
- A single entity controls all the channels
- All the platforms give the look and feel of the main entity itself.
- All channels report to the main server
- But these channels do not interact with each other.
- It creates irregularity between the data
- Doesn’t support proper inventory management
In 2016, Gartner gave the perfect solution for solving the problems of omnichannel marketing when they gave the Unified Marketing Module to the world. In unified commerce, all the outer shell of your business remains the same but it adds the functionality of intercommunication between the channels. This allows you to eliminate the possibility of any discrepancies in your data. Also, unified commerce helps you manage inventory as well. If a customer is ordering a product on your website, then it helps you determine if the product is present in your offline store or not. That makes a huge difference in gaining the reputation of regular buyers and keeping your customer base intact.
Some of the key points of this type of commerce are:
- The entity remains the same in all the channels.
- Supports all the key features of multichannel and omnichannel marketing.
- Provides inter-channel communication allowance
- Benefit quality inventory management
- Helps in demand and supply forecasting
- Remove discrepancies in data
So why do you need unified commerce in your retail business?
As you may have already noticed, the unified commerce is a culmination of both offline and online marketing. It acts as equilibrium and helps users get the advantages of both worlds. Many retailers, in general, lack a solid online presence and vice-versa for e-sellers in regards to offline stores. But uni-commerce makes it possible for both these scenarios to take each other’s pros and establish a better relationship with their customers.
Following are some of the many features you get with Unified Commerce:
Reduce the risk of errors
Every single channel, be it an offline store, an eCommerce site, or a seller account on another site, is connected with each other in uni-commerce. So, there is almost next to the impossible chance of errors while payment or inventory management. The reduction of risk is also directly proportional to the number of increases in your buyers as it can help you establish a trusted profile at every platform.
Real-time information exchange
This is also a prominent feature of Unified commerce as it provides real-time exchange of data between channels and main server. The main server is generally considered as a cloud POS system that manages all the sale, purchase and inventory data and helps maintain regularity in all channels. The real-time operations also help manage the business account and generate the reports precisely.
A customer-centric retail experience is only when it provides all the features of shopping to its customers. These features include the acceptance of all kinds of payments, customer feedback, physical experience, and online ordering. All these features, in tandem, make a retail shop whole. The use of unified commerce helps in getting all these features under a single roof. It helps you get your e-channel to connect with your offline channel and vice-versa.
Quicker and better staff training
Unified commerce helps you connect all the dots left by your retail store. That includes good staff training as well. You might have already trained your staff earlier but because of the unified system, you get to train your staff in dealing with all types of channels your store is offering. This makes your staff trained in multiple platforms and features so that you can easily swipe ou any of them anywhere you want.
Demand and supply forecasting is also a really important feature of Unified Commerce. It helps you correctly forecast your future sales on every platform and stock up your inventory accordingly. Not only sales but you can forecast your inventory and other purchases as well. This helps you get a solid sense of your accounts, billings, and expenses and manage them efficiently as well.
So, this is the detailed review of Unified Commerce and why it is an absolute necessity for the retail sector today. Every retailer, be it an offline store owner or an e-commerce seller, should get their hands on this piece of technology. Uni-commerce can help you grow your business marginally without involving much of the risks. Yes, there are some minor drawbacks of this method as well such as costs, setup time, maintenance, etc. But all of them are nothing in comparison to the service it provides.
So, if you are still wondering if you should start your retail in multiple sectors, then just start working on the unified Commerce as soon as possible. Start by having an online presence via social media, e-commerce sites, web portals, etc. Get a good Point of Sale system for your retail store that can manage your inventory without a hassle and can exchange data from the cloud server. After setting up everything, just relax and see your sales rising up to the sky.