Unified Commerce: The Next Step in Supply Chain Evolution
A few weeks ago at the NRF 2020 conference and expo, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the folks from eCommerceNext, an industry publication focusing on online retail news and information. During the interview, I was asked about our unified commerce Foundry Platform, and about the concept of unified commerce as a whole.
After, it struck me that while we here at TrueCommerce talk about unified commerce every day, many business owners still don’t fully appreciate what a unified commerce platform is, or how it can revolutionize their order processing and fulfillment strategies. And since recent research indicates that 81% of retailers will be using unified commerce platforms by the end of this year, companies that don’t begin investing in this type of platform are likely to fall far behind their competition.
What is Unified Commerce?
In the broader sense, unified commerce is a means to aggregate together all channels and sources of orders, products, inventory, and fulfillment capabilities. It allows retailers and vendors to accept and process orders regardless of their source or original format using a centralized information hub. This is a huge leap from the processes of the past, which required disparate software from multiple vendors to be cobbled together, often utilizing a combination of cumbersome integrations and manual efforts.
Our Commerce Network is the single point of connection for TrueCommerce’s Unified Commerce strategy. It provides access to applications and services that do everything from helping to manage your online store, to integrating EDI with your ERP. It’s a one-stop-shop solution for your processing and fulfillment needs, which not only connects with over 120,000 global trading partners, but also digitizes your data, automates your transactions, and provides insightful analytics you can use to make smart business decisions.
To further simplify the concept, think about how fifteen years ago we used to have an internet provider, a telephone provider, a cable TV provider, and a movie rental provider. All those systems and providers later became unified through one box and one provider. There is much similarity here to the effect a unified commerce platform can have in transforming the supply chain.
Benefits of a Unified Commerce Platform
Okay, so that sounds pretty great, right? But some skeptics are still asking, why is unified commerce better than the solution I have now? The answer comes down to that single word: unified. Unified commerce takes the “best of the best” by integrating the business system, eCommerce platform, and marketplaces you’ve already chosen (or letting you upgrade your systems entirely). It provides a single vantage point from which you can see and understand your business’s omnichannel performance. AND, it does all of that while automating core business processes to save you time, increase productivity, and optimize your growth potential.
Connect Once, Sell Everywhere
Previously, to sell across multiple channels, you’d have to go to a different portal or platform for each channel. So, you’d go from Seller Central in Amazon, to your Shopify or Magento account dashboard, to your POS system for your retail store. With unified commerce, you can sell through as many channels as you want, without having to switch from portal to portal. Plus, because the system pools all of your data, you’re able to synchronize product information, not only providing brand consistency but also price and availability across channels.
Sync and Assure Inventory Levels
There are some amazing statistics online regarding inventory, the one that intrigues me most is that the average US retailer only has a 63% accuracy in inventory reporting. That’s a D grade, for those of you that remember high school. Even worse, 34% of businesses report shipping orders late because they accidentally sold an out-of-stock item.
Unified commerce tackles the issue of inventory inaccuracies, which can derail individual purchases and negatively impact your brand reputation. By tracking inventory across channels and compiling the data in one place, the platform provides a single data set you can rely on. From there, you can disseminate the data across channels, so that each marketplace reflects your current inventory levels—all without having to do the math yourself.
Let’s take it one step further. With unified commerce, you’ve brought your inventory data into one place and coordinated it wherever you sell. As items are sold, the platform tracks the real-time data. Not only does this help you to provide customers with accurate information; it also lets you see how quickly different products are moving, and which channels are moving products the fastest. You can use that data to understand customer demand, and then make strategic moves in replenishment.
Drive Internal Efficiency
Manual efforts are the enemy of productivity and sales growth. They’re time-consuming, riddled with errors and delays, and require expensive internal resources. What’s more, a manual process can only go as fast as an employee can type, making it nearly impossible to scale. But if you’re managing multiple vendor portals and systems, there’s no real way to escape them.
We’ve already talked about how unified commerce brings all your channels into one place, and allows you to control and disseminate data across multiple systems. But on top of that, unified commerce uses direct integration to automate data transfers from your EDI solution, to your web storefront, to your ERP, and back. This is a monumental benefit, because not only does it eliminate the time you spend on manual efforts; it also increases your data accuracy, which in turn reduces delays, chargebacks, and customer disappointments.
Meet Customer Expectations
Customers today expect a level of service hereto unheard of. They want a personalized experience, high-quality goods, and ultra-fast shipping. Let’s assume you already have a winning product, and you’ve achieved your goal for shipping timeframes. Another thing that unified commerce allows you to do is to create a seamless customer shopping experience. For example, with all that data being pulled into one, central hub, you can easily track customer actions across channels. So you’ll be able to see, did that customer buy one thing in the store and another online? Or, if they’re in the store, have they previously bought online? In the case of one functionality, you’d be able to bring up that customer’s online history to your POS, so you can make targeted recommendations in person. What you’re doing is creating a shopping experience that follows the customer wherever they go—making it hyper-personalized for them, while giving you the information you need to drive the sale.
How Unified Commerce Helps You Do Business in Every Direction
Unified commerce takes the pieces of your omnichannel strategy and brings them together so you can see the whole picture. Whether you’re expanding your web storefront, or working with retailers, or selling on Amazon, unified commerce can help you reach more customers faster and with better service—and that means you’ll be ready to do business in every direction.
Want to learn more about how unified commerce can support your business growth? Contact us today to speak with a unified commerce specialist.
About the Author: Ross Elliott leads the operations, customer relations, and overall product strategy and development for TrueCommerce. With more than four decades of experience in supply chain technology, he has a deep understanding of supply chain operations, commerce networks, and software strategy, and serves as the lead architect for TrueCommerce's unified commerce Foundry platform. Ross lives with his wife of 47 years, Sandra, his son, Bryan, and their dog, Mycroft.