Since the advent of Amazon, the retail world has struggled to give a proper name to its own digital transition. Our industry has tried “eCommerce,” “Multi-channel,” “Omni-channel,” “Brick & Clicks,” and, more recently, “Unified Commerce” and “Singular Commerce.” To my mind, none of these terms describes the challenges retailers face in the Digital Age. For an in-depth discussion of this very issue, download the free eBook I wrote with Rick Boretsky.
“Unified Commerce,” currently the most popular moniker, is too aspirational, setting the bar too high for all but a handful of retailers. There is no way most retailers will be able to “unify” the stove pipes they have constructed over the last couple of decades. Not only has retail siloed each selling channel, but it has also made obsolete back-office, brick-and-mortar systems.
More precisely, “Unified Commerce” is a strategy used by large retail software companies. It aspires to replace disparate, channel-specific consumer interfaces with a comprehensive, cloud-based platform. However, for most retailers, more than 90% of their commerce is run through a mélange of on-premise back office and distributed store systems. The quest for “unification” will not drive these retailers towards a disruptive and costly strategy to replace existing systems.
Another problem with the promise of “Unified Commerce” is that it fails to recognize that technology is on a mission to change every aspect of consumer behavior. Retailers must respond with an ongoing cycle of innovation, experimentation, and evaluation. Think, for a moment, of the technological onrush facing retailers in the next three to five years: augmented reality, biometrics, presence technology, robotics, and 5G. No matter how all embracing, the mythical “Unified Commerce” platform will be in constant flux.
A better, more accurate name for the digital transition in retail would be “Integrated Commerce” because it establishes a realistic objective for retailers of all stripes. Most importantly, the name gives data integration the attention it deserves. With integration, retailers have a good chance of establishing competitive advantage against the Amazons of the world. Without it? Well, chances are not so good.
We’ve come to see that the way forward is about integrating, not “unifying” the new with the old. Shoppers don’t expect a common interface when they shop across channels. But they do expect the harmonization of pricing, product, customer recognition, and shopping history. These are the enterprise tables that we’ve been delivering in our work as integration specialists. If you don’t have them, you’ll never thrive in the age of Amazon no matter the channels you open or the innovations you embrace.
Your customers want you to compete well against Amazon. To meet their expectations, you’ll need coherent strategies for your supply chain, planning, marketing, margin accounting, and human resources. These expectations are far more achievable once retailers give integration the attention and resources it deserves.
So, let’s call it what it is: “Integrated” not “Unified” Commerce.