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The age of unified commerce: how to win today’s connected shoppers

By Brendan O’Meara, Senior Director, Worldwide Retail and Consumer Goods, Microsoft on July 14, 2016

Filed under Retail & Consumer Goods

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In today’s digital world, a retailer’s relationship with the shopper has never been more complex. While shopping options are now diverse and dispersed, consumers expect each point of engagement with a retailer to be connected and consistent across physical and digital environments.

To stay ahead of today’s digital transformation, drive brand loyalty and win new customers, it now all boils down to unified commerce, which can put a seamless and personal shopping experience at the center.

But what does unified commerce really entail?

Beyond omnichannel retailing

In order to both keep up with and anticipate shoppers wants and needs, the game has changed.

We’ve now moved beyond omni-channel retailing—which primarily looked at connecting a retailer’s online and physical store experience, and used stitched together business systems to cover the seams—to unified commerce which includes a dynamic, unified system and the technology-enabled functions (both inside and outside the company) to serve the consumer where, when and how they desire.

Achieving this customer-focused approach involves a true transformation in how we think about the customer experience and how you transform your business to enable this.

At our Microsoft Envision business conference this spring, Jeff Roster at IHL Group said it well: “Unified Commerce is where all the systems within your organization need to net up to a single brand experience, where silos within your organization have to be imploded, where 21st-century architecture has to be created, and where you have to have a seamless view of the customer.”

So what now makes this possible?

The platform for unified commerce

New tools, systems and solutions can now create a truly seamless customer experience across digital retail and the brick-and-mortar store.

With unified commerce, shoppers no longer have to choose between the rich selection of online shopping and the service and attention of an in-store experience. Retailers can combine the best of physical and digital assets and not only react to, but anticipate and proactively engage with a customer in the right way, at the right time, changing and migrating inside a single transaction across the customer’s shopping journey.

What’s enabling this tremendous opportunity to innovate and deliver a whole new level of customer experiences, the kind that win customer loyalty and engagement, is cloud computing combined with important advancements in machine learning—what Microsoft calls the intelligent cloud. I talk more about the intelligent cloud and modern points of service in my last blog here.

The data-driven intelligence now made possible by these new unified systems is what’s driving today’s opportunities for transformation.

The power of unified commerce

Retail industry leaders are beginning to see the benefits that intelligent solutions and unified commerce can bring not only to the shopper’s experience, but to their own bottom line. And they are taking action.

Based on IHL Group’s recent research, overall retail IT spend is increasing four to five percent, and 69 percent of worldwide software spending this year is centering on unified commerce-related initiatives, representing an astounding $30 billion USD.

Included in this are investments in things like updating the point of sale, an increased commitment to mobile POS, and basing it on a central enterprise order management system and a centralized merchandise & distribution system and strategy. These are all key areas to achieving unified commerce and delivering that seamless experience to customers.

And beyond the shopping experience, unified commerce’s benefits are also pervasive throughout a retailer’s business.

In this recent post on our Microsoft Retail blog, ShiSh Shridhar outlines five ways the cloud and advanced analytics can be used to drive better operational efficiency and drive down costs. IHL, for example, cites the current impact of inventory distortion represents a TRILLION-DOLLAR loss. Imagine the impact unified commerce and system improvements could make to a retailer’s bottom line in the supply chain alone!

The age of unified commerce is now

This is certainly an exciting time to be in the industry, with transformative opportunities to connect with and win today’s shoppers, control costs, and drive profitability.

At Microsoft we are focused on helping make it easier to take advantage of today’s technology advancements to modernize your retail business and experience the benefits of unified commerce.

For example, our Microsoft Dynamics for Retail solution, is designed to make it easier for retailers to deliver this seamless commerce experience across all customer touch points, by leveraging a unified commerce engine, enabling a single code based used across all shopping channels and device types.

It also utilizes the full power of Azure, and combined with Microsoft CRM, all this now available data intelligence can be used to give retailers new, proactive options for delivering world class customer service.

Learning from the leaders

There are a number of great examples of retail leaders moving to a more unified approach to take advantage of its many benefits.

Spanish food coop Covirán, for example, made the move to modernize the company’s management, choosing Microsoft Dynamics for a fully integrated, end-to-end retail solution. Their new, flexible technology architecture has opened doors for greater integration with its partners, is enabling a complete view of their customers, and creating new business models.

Pandora Jewelry is using Microsoft cloud services to establish global processes, streamline operations, and gain business insights, and is furthering its competitive edge by better connecting with and serving its retailers, wholesalers, franchisees and consumers worldwide.

Other leaders like Swarovski and Pet Supplies Plus are also using Microsoft Dynamics and cloud services to boost performance and mobility in their sales force, provide better service, and support their ambitious growth plans.

If you’d like to learn more about what it means to achieve unified commerce and how to get started, I’ve included a few resources for you below. We look forward to helping you create the next level of personalized, seamless customer experiences for today’s connected shoppers!

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LinkedIn: Brendan O’Meara

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