Want Unified Commerce? Part 1: Start with Omnichannel Inventory Visibility

Xavier MougeotBlog

Xavier Mougeot
By Xavier Mougeot
Global Managing Director
Logic’s Digital practice

Here’s a whopping statistic: A 2023 study found that over 66% of all software spending in retail was focused on the concept of unified commerce, Like many of the essential initiatives the retail clients I work with took on at the height of the pandemic, the unified commerce trend was already well underway. COVID-19 hit the accelerator in a big way. And now it is becoming the new normal.

Unified commerce encompasses omnichannel journeys that are transforming the retail customer experience—like frictionless checkout and BOPIS—as well as the underlying architecture that supports and connects these journeys. Today, the share of business that omnichannel journeys represent has grown from pre-pandemic levels of 1–3% to as high as 18% for some retailers. At the same time, the average number of consumer touchpoints for retailers has tripled from 2 to 6.

In this three-part blog series, we’ll dive into what unified commerce is, the value it brings to both consumers and retailers, and the 3 foundational elements you need in place to be successful with unified commerce. This week, we’ll focus on the first foundational element: omnichannel inventory visibility.

What Does Unified Commerce Mean to the Consumer?

The consumer doesn’t think about “unified commerce” in those terms. What they’re thinking is:

  • Can I buy what I want, and get it when I want it, in the way that is most convenient to me?
  • Can I quickly see the quantities of the product that are available online and in-store, which aisle the item is located in, and which delivery and pick-up options are offered?
  • Can I do this through mobile, laptop, store, in-store kiosks, and other channels?

And it all has to happen fast. More than ever, speed is paramount to consumers. They expect everywhere access to real-time information that supports multiple stages of the buying journey—right at their fingertips. And they need to know they’ll get their products quickly and painlessly, in the way that’s easiest for them, before they’ve made their purchase decision.

Of course, it’s all on the retailer to make this happen!

What Unified Commerce Means to the Retailer 

Now, as the retailer, I’m trying to fulfill the consumer’s demand, give them a great experience, earn their loyalty, and retain it. I’m feeling pressure from the consumer to perform well, because if the consumer is having a better experience somewhere else, I’m losing that share of their wallet. In fact, 88% of consumers now say that the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services, according to Salesforce—that’s up from 80% in 2020

So as part of their brand experience with me, I need to enable all the different customer journeys that matter to them, offering several pathways for them to research their purchases, buy, and receive their products. At the core of achieving this is unifying the data and capabilities in my back-end systems—like inventory availability, fulfillment options, pricing, promotions, and more—with my customer’s front-end experiences. It’s what I need in order to support omnichannel journeys and create a unified view of shopper interactions, products, and order management systems. All of this requires delicate, but precise, internal orchestration for the retailer to be operationally efficient in enhancing the customer experience.

The 3 Foundational Elements of Unifying Commerce 

As a retailer, you may be thinking, “Where do I begin?” when it comes to delivering the unified commerce experience that consumers demand. The three key foundational elements to focus on first are:

  1. Unified inventory
  2. Omnichannel enablement
  3. Modernized architecture

With these elements in place, you’ll have the foundation you need to support the requirements of unified commerce now and into the future. 

#1 Achieving Unified Inventory

The first stop on your unified commerce journey is unified inventory. Omnichannel inventory visibility and the ability to flexibly manage that inventory are absolutely critical. When I work with our retail clients who are driving toward unified commerce, I see some common top challenges that stand in the way of unified inventory. These are:

  • Silos that create a disconnect between store and online inventory
  • Lack of inventory visibility across distribution centers (DCs), fulfillment centers, the upstream supply chain, and others
  • Lack of product availability data, especially everywhere beyond the DC
  • Inability to reserve inventory or generate notifications about its status

The Importance of Real-Time Inventory Data

Unifying inventory means having a real-time view of all your merchandise in all the places where it exists in your supply network. So you and your customers can view the goods in your stores and warehouses, the items that can ship directly from your suppliers and partners, and the lead times for availability of items on their way from suppliers.

When you achieve omnichannel inventory visibility, you also achieve the nimbleness to bring on new business models that deliver on the promise of the modern shopping experience. For instance, you’ll be enabled to easily bring online a dynamic network of drop-ship mini-warehouses, or “ghost stores,” that fulfill orders for nearby customers. These are also great strategies to assess even if the geographic areas you are covering merit a physical store.

Key Requirements for Unified Inventory

When building your requirements for unified inventory, here are some of the key questions you want to be sure your end solution can answer:

  • Is the product available in the way that my customers need it?
  • Can it be bought, reserved, and moved and fulfilled?
  • Can I see the demand in real time and order more units, or adjust my replenishment plan?
  • Can my customers see what stock is on the way and be alerted when it’s available?

In our next installment, we’ll explore the second foundational element for unifying commerce: Omnichannel enablement.

As the Global Managing Director of Logic’s Digital practice, Xavier Mougeot drives the next wave of commerce experiences and innovation at Logic. Xavier has led commerce strategies and customer experiences for companies including Rogers Communications, Stanley Black & Decker, General Motors, Mary Kay, AT&T, Sobeys, and Pfizer.

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