Unified Commerce - Is It Truly "All Or Nothing"?


Your CEO thinks you need to achieve "Unified Commerce", and everyone you talk to seems to have different advice on how to succeed.  What should you do first?  How do you measure success?  When you seek advice from your team and outside partners or vendors, why does it seem like the only way to approach this quest is "all or nothing"?

I can assure you, Unified Commerce is not something you can just check off on a goals list.  Creating a truly unified brand experience for your consumers is a journey that looks different for every retailer. It's continuous and ever-evolving.

So where to start?  First, let's define Unified Commerce. Many sources will explain Unified Commerce as a single system that supports all sales channels.  I would say the same thing if I were selling…systems.  A better definition would be a central platform, or collection of systems working in unison to provide a single cohesive experience for your brand.  Shoppers don't care about all your internal system limitations or incompatibilities, they are simply looking to make a purchase. The unified experience can be determined by the weakest experience offered.

In a jointly authored whitepaper with Broadleaf Commerce, we shared that the best perspective to have on Unified Commerce is more of a mindset towards managing and supporting rapid change on behalf of the overall customer experience rather than any single system approach or feature addition.  The ever-evolving customer expectations will eventually overcome any leader attempting to "accomplish" Unified Commerce as merely the next year's goal.

Now that we're clear that Unified Commerce is more of a journey and mindset than a quantified destination, let's think about what the next step needs to be for your organization. Below is a brief summary:

  1. Define your brand experience and overall customer journey goals
  2. Identify current capabilities of the enterprise systems and experience goals
  3. Identify lack of capabilities of the enterprise systems causing friction or gaps in service
  4. Assess dependencies and milestones of system needs that can evolve together
  5. Tackle inflexible infrastructure that prevents scale and versatility
  6. Build business capabilities modularly with clean integrations to other systems
  7. Always assess alignment with key customer experiences and long term business goals with each iteration

Clearly each of these steps could be a lengthy conversation, but the general point is to make sure you're aligning with a long-term brand experience for your customers first, identifying gaps and opportunities, then establishing ideal forward direction that allows you to stay very flexible and move quickly.

So what's stopping you from proceeding?  Here are executive responses gathered in our 2020 commerce survey on key obstacles hindering moves toward Unified Commerce goals:

As you can see, it's just not a priority when compared to other initiatives.  Unified Commerce presented as a single "thing" to accomplish can be confusing and difficult to measure without clear industry KPIs or milestones since it can be different across retailers.  Brad shares some of the top challenges to unified commerce modernization very well, and knowing how to digest the problem and develop a "right size" solution for your business can be very challenging.

To bring us back to our earlier question - When you seek advice from your team and outside partners or vendors, why does it seem like the only way to approach this quest is "all or nothing"?

It's tough to answer with a cliché "it depends" - which would be useless words on a page by themselves…but in my experience there are very few situations that would make sense to attempt a scorch-the-earth approach of replacing all systems in hopes of buying a unified ecosystem.  Even if you did manage to buy Unified Commerce features this time around, if you haven't made the cultural and organizational adjustments necessary to embrace rapid change and flexibility in your enterprise platform architecture to accommodate a unified experience across customers, administration, product, finance, and ultimately everyone…you're bound to have the same problem again soon.  Iterative or incremental approaches with a mindset of continuous change and flexibility are a great starting point toward a Unified Commerce solution.

Check out our Unified Commerce Report if you'd like more quantified information on digital commerce transformation.

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Rob Harbols

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