The difference between omnichannel and unified commerce

Many retailers are still equating unified commerce with omnichannel. While there’s crossover between the two, there’s also distinct differences.

  • Topic
    Unified Commerce

Unified commerce is one of the hottest retail topics on the planet right now and has quickly become a priority for global retailers after the pandemic forced a dramatic acceleration of digitalization within the industry.

Shopping is cross-channel. Almost all retail spend is influenced by a store and almost all in-store shopping is influenced by online. Your customers want all prices, stock levels, orders, purchase history and any additional information you have for them to be unified which requires all your systems to work together in harmony.

However, a huge number of retailers are still - wrongly - equating unified commerce with omnichannel. While there’s crossover between the two, there’s also distinct differences.

In the following article you’ll learn what’s meant by the two terms, see what the differences between them are and we’ll show you why turning unified commerce into a reality is an essential for retailers who want to future-proof their businesses.

What's the difference between omnichannel and unified commerce?

  • What is omnichannel?

  • What is unified commerce?

  • What does a unified commerce platform do?

  • Why is a unified commerce approach essential?

1. What is omnichannel?

Omnichannel is the first step in creating a seamless customer experience. Rather than your different sales channels acting as silos, the channels are linked, giving the customer a cross-channel experience.

For example, if they browse a product online, add this product to their shopping cart but abandon the cart before making a purchase, they could then receive a shopping cart abandonment email while, at the same time, being served up the same message as a social ad.

While all the channels appear to act as one, the reality is different.

Omnichannel is based on numerous different backend systems talking to each other; these systems all have different functionality and hold different data - but are very seldom in sync. This means the data isn’t always reliable because it isn’t updated in real time and the customer experience is, therefore, not seamless.

Take the example of a store associate searching for a product for a customer. The product isn’t available in-store but the store associate can see online stock is available. However, there’s only one in stock. But can the associate trust this? If the stocks aren’t connected in real time they could sell the item to the customer only for the order not to be fulfilled because the data wasn’t synced in real time.

This is where the evolution to unified commerce starts.

2. What is unified commerce?

Your customers expect all your different channels to be connected and unified. As far as they’re concerned, there’s no difference between your webstore, your physical stores or any marketplaces you use.

With unified commerce there is no discrepancies between data from different channels - all data from all channels is updated in real time. With omnichannel, you have multiple channels, but you don’t have one version of the truth

Unified Commerce is when all sales channels exchange product, inventory, order and customer data in real time. With one truth and full transparency across all touchpoints you can provide a unified experience for customers regardless of channel.

Unified Commerce is the next evolutionary step of the omnichannel retail strategy, solving the cross-channel problem. You’re not only connecting your channels, you’re merging them to one completely accurate and fully transparent real-time ecosystem.

A unified commerce strategy will let you drive the customer experience across every customer touchpoint, accessing everything you need to know about your customer in real time to give them the most relevant, consistent and personalized experience possible.

You’re giving your customers the ultimate customer experience.

What’s more, it’s a solution built for easy scaling and scale. Since the best unified commerce solutions are reliant on cloud-native technology, it’s easy and fast to add new channels and support new customer journeys.

The most effective way to make unified commerce a reality is through a unified commerce platform. This acts as the centerpiece of the puzzle and ensures all retail systems can talk to each other in real time.

3. What does a unified commerce platform do? 

Simply put, a unified commerce platform enables you to connect all your systems - such as your eComm, Marketplaces, ERP, CRM, OMS and your POS system - in real time. 

A unified commerce platform will give you the tools you need for: 

  • Optimized cross-store and cross-channel fulfillment.

  • Real-time cross-channel inventory adjustments.

  • Real-time cross-channel inventory management.

  • Unified product information and real-time information adjustment across all channels.

  • Unified cross-channel customer data.

  • Unified cross-channel order data.

  • Verified cross-channel payments and returns.

  • Unified price and promotion management.

  • Real-time insights and reporting.

As a bonus, the cloud-native technology needed for a unified commerce platform helps simplify your IT architecture. It reduces the number of complex and time-consuming integrations between systems. The cloud-native technology also makes integrations between best-of-breed software solutions straightforward and easy to set up. 

In short, it gives you everything you need to provide best-in-class CX, empower your associates and fuel your business growth. With 72% of shoppers saying they won’t buy again if they have a bad experience, the need to ensure you deliver a fantastic experience every time, and across every touchpoint, is stronger than ever.

4. Why is a unified commerce approach essential?

With a unified commerce platform you can instantly enhance and improve your customer experience by providing customer convenience across stock availability, purchase, payment, delivery and return, alongside harnessing the power of personalization with clienteling.

Not only does it benefit your customers, it empowers your store associates by turning the point of sale into a point of service. When your associates have real-time product, inventory, customer and order information they provide a better service. They can turn returns into exchanges, using the power of upselling algorithms and selling or reserving products from any store or distribution center.

While both omnichannel and unified commerce bridge the gap between your different sales channels, unified commerce is the better strategy for delivering a seamless customer experience and significantly reduces the risk of your customers having poor experiences.

Look at it in the context of these figures from Adyen:

  • 60% of customers say they would be more loyal to retailers if they would let them purchase an out-of-stock item in-store and have it delivered to their home.

  • 53% say they would be more loyal to a retailer that lets them buy things online and return them in-store.

  • 39% say they would be more loyal to a retailer that enabled them to shop in-store and finish shopping online, or vice versa.

In Summary

  • Omnichannel is when all your sales channels communicate with each other.

  • Unified commerce is customer-centric and when all your sales channels are seamlessly connected in real time allowing a constant flow of data between all your different systems.

  • Unified commerce gives you complete accuracy and full transparency.

  • The cloud-native technology of a unified commerce platform will help simplify your IT architecture by enabling seamless and easy integration between your other systems.

  • Unified commerce enhances and improves the experience for your customers and your employees.

  • Customers are more loyal to retailers who have a unified commerce approach and strategy.

Turning unified commerce into a reality is easier than it’s ever been before. Thanks to game-changing technology, unified commerce platforms are simple to integrate and cost effective.

If you want to find out more, one of our team of retail experts would love to show you how.

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