Boston Retail Partners, a consultancy, reported in September 2015 that 78 percent of those merchants it had surveyed intended to execute some kind of unified commerce platform by 2020. This form of solution can lower labour costs, improve workflows, and also, occasionally, enhance the purchasing experience — thanks to better customer service and better account information.
What is Unified Commerce?
As a term, unified trade describes the idea of bringing together, merging, or interconnecting the various software solutions necessary to sell products across different stations into a package or set of solutions that share information and provide a singular interface for customers.
Unified commerce could also be thought of as a response to the growth of omnichannel imports, wherein one merchant might sell to both clients and other businesses from a physical store, an online store, a half-dozen marketplaces, and by way of a catalog.
“In omnichannel, you have many channels, but you don’t have one piece of software, 1 version of the truth,” said Boston Retail Partners co-founder Ken Morris in an interview. “You have many variations of this reality. In the unified trade world, it’s all connected in real time.”
Unified Commerce Solves Many Problems
Inventory management is, possibly, one of those easiest-to-understand examples of why merged trade is a must.
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Imagine an online retailer selling exactly the same product from its online store and on the Amazon marketplace. Let’s also assume that this merchant has not done any integration, or unification.
To list a product on its own ecommerce website, one of the merchant’s employees must:
- Log into the merchant’s ecommerce platform;
- Fill out a few forms;
- Manually enter the number available (stock available );
- And, in some fashion, publish the product.
To record the same product on Amazon, one of the merchant’s employees must:
- Log into Amazon Seller Central;
- Fill out a form with product information;
- Manually enter the product’s stock;
- And have a few additional actions to post.
Clearly, there is already some duplication, because product information and inventory is entered into two different and dispersed software applications. But things get worse when orders start to roll in.
If the merchant has 10 widgets and lists all 10 both on its own ecommerce platform and on Amazon, it is possible to oversell.
Two orders of 3 widgets each on its own site (6 widgets), and 3 orders of two widgets on Amazon (6 widgets), would make 12 widgets provided, when only 10 were really offered.
It would only be better if the merchant’s site was connected into the Amazon marketplace, so when one widget is sold, both stations understand that there are two left. In cases such as this, unifying the systems, in a sense, solves the problem.
Small Businesses May Be Better Suited to Implement Unified Commerce
Issues such as inventory management across multiple stations are the tip of the proverbial iceberg for large retail chains.
A big box retailer, for example, will have to combine a point-of-sale (POS) system due to its physical stores, an ecommerce platform, possibly another B2B ecommerce site, and a call center.
This large retailer probably also has enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, purchasing tools, customer information systems, accounting solutions, warehouse management software, order processing suites, together with other applications reports and resources that should all share information and that are operating on different hardware with different licensing agreements.
Connecting these disparate software solutions is a substantial undertaking, which could explain why it may take some large retailers five years to implement unified commerce.
Small retailers, however, may be able to implement a unified commerce strategy more quickly.
By means of example, think about an online retailer that opens up a physical store. This merchant may use its present ecommerce platform or a connected solution for a POS. Many ecommerce platform makers offer just this sort of option right now.
Shopify provides an ecommerce platform and a POS solution that could share information. It’s among the many companies offering this sort of service.
Given that small retailers often have relatively simpler systems, this kind of integration can be rather straightforward and quick.
Similarly, a small retailer that sells out of its own store and a current market, say Etsy, could use an order processing tool that connected both so that the person picking and sending an arrangement would only need to log into a single software solution to process orders from either station.
Here again, being smaller and less complicated, if you will, than large omnichannel retail companies, may indicate that small retail businesses can implement some kind of unified trade today and benefit from it.
In the end, it is also relatively easier for small retail businesses to alter trade platforms, and there are a number of companies from NetSuite or GoECart to Mozu and Demandware offering something of a unified commerce solution.