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Unified Commerce: Realizing an Omnichannel Dream

Unified Commerce: Realizing an Omnichannel Dream

Introduction: Unified Commerce – New or Known?

Unified commerce has taken center stage recently, echoing the previous buzz around omnichannel. But how new is it and how different is it from omnichannel? Here's our take.

Unified commerce and omnichannel share these common goals:

  • Rationalize the consumer experience across physical and digital realms
  • Provide personalized experience based on consumer’s online and offline journeys

However, the path to omnichannel was riddled with organizational and technical hurdles, which led to its limited success in two areas:

  • Organizational: eCommerce and physical retail stores operate on separate tracks in disjointed business units with their own strategy and budget
  • Technical: eCommerce and physical retail stores are powered by technology stacks of different “vintages;” in-store retail tech came well before eCommerce, and therefore was older and less flexible than digitally native eCommerce platforms

Now that point of sale (POS) vendors started to harness composable architecture and cloud-native capabilities, the in-store technology finally caught up with digital, and therefore the conversation around omnichannel – or its recent unified commerce reincarnation – sparked again.

This has not gone unnoticed by the industry… 

“According to the 2024 Gartner® CIO and Technology Executive Survey, the top priorities for retail CIOs in the coming year are the successful execution of a unified commerce strategy for revenue, and margin growth. Funding is focused on game-changing AI, in-store technologies, cloud and analytics.”

Infographic: 2024 Top Technology Investments and Objectives for Retail, Kelsie Marian, Mim Burt, 27 October 2023. GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

And according to Gartner Retail CIO Priorities 2024, “Retailers overwhelmingly continue to bet on physical retailing in 2024 and beyond. The data shows overall increases in-store technology investments (cited by 71% of retail respondents), overall floorspace, net number of stores and new store formats.”

Retail CIO Priorities 2024: Insights for TSP Product Plans, Sandeep Unni, Kelsie Marian, 4 March 2024

Achieving the Unified Commerce Nirvana

Unified commerce promises an omnichannel experience bolstered by modernized in-store technology that in addition to consumer benefits, can also:

  • Streamline back-end operations
  • Enable new business models at lightning speed
  • Reduce operational costs

But how do we avoid the “omnichannel” mistakes and make unified commerce work?

Unified commerce platforms are not magic wands to wave unified commerce into existence. The key to unlocking unified commerce lies in overcoming the very reasons that hindered omnichannel adoption: lack of organizational alignment and inadequate technology readiness. Therefore, it's important to distinguish between unified commerce strategy (targeting the former) and the unified commerce platform (targeting the latter).

The equation of success is quite simple in principle, even if it is not that simple in execution:

Unified Commerce =

Unified Commerce Strategy (UCS)

– a business and technology strategy to eliminate the duplication of sales and service capabilities across all channels and customer interaction points


Unified Commerce Platform (UCP)

– a suite of capabilities that provide technology enablement to a UCS

Unified Commerce Strategy (UCS) ensures organizational readiness. 

This implies eliminating redundant back-office capabilities and business processes, which requires consistent strategy and alignment across all departments within the organization.

Let’s compare traditional retail to unified commerce retail:

This example clearly shows duplicated systems that support similar capabilities across online and offline channels.

In this example, channels leverage a consolidated architecture with the digital systems powering all channels alike, which can be achieved through cloud-native, API-first composable architecture.

Now, let's delve into a real-world scenario that highlights the necessity of cross-departmental alignment.

Take an enterprise where the eCommerce team had recently deployed a modern order management system (OMS) with robust online and offline capabilities, but its jurisdiction was limited to online orders managed by the eCommerce team. In another corner, the retail team, overseeing in-store operations, was grappling with an outdated POS system with no omnichannel capabilities. As a result, they embarked on a solo POS modernization mission.

The fallout? Both teams realized too late that their upgraded systems didn't mesh well. The new POS demanded a complete replication of order and stock data rather than minimal access via OMS APIs. Consequently, any cross-channel feature roll-out now demanded duplication across two systems — thus doubling efforts, increasing overheads and fostering operational redundancy. This predicament could have been averted with a unified technology strategy spanning all departments.

Unified Commerce Platform (UCP) realizes the organizational strategy, and the technology strategy carries equal weight.

A unified commerce off-the-shelf (COTS) product can realize your UCS, or a robust digital ecosystem can also grow into a unified commerce platform, with both paths offering online and offline support. Below, we explore the two paths that you could take:

PATH 1: A COTS product that provides the capabilities required to enable both online and offline channels:

Such products may stem from… 

  • POS vendors applying composable, cloud-native principles
  • Digital native POS providers using similar principles 
  • Commerce cloud vendors partnering with modern POS providers or augmenting their products with in-store capabilities

This approach is most suitable for retailers who have a siloed and/or legacy eCommerce platform in need of modernization (i.e. can be safely thrown away) and who are fully bought into their chosen unified commerce vendor’s vision and roadmap.

PATH 2: A unified commerce platform can be an evolution of a robust composable digital ecosystem:

This evolution may start with scaling your eCommerce ecosystem to support offline in-store capabilities, then extending your OMS to provide a single stock and order view, and finally augmenting the architecture with a modern POS (either buy or build) that can seamlessly integrate into a bigger ecosystem without data replication or redundancies.

This approach is advantageous for retailers who invested in a modern composable framework and already have a foothold in the omnichannel market, coupled with in-store deployed apps.

To Conclude…

Unified commerce was born from the push of in-store POS technology vendors, who are modernizing their stack to adopt cloud-native, API-first architecture and are now ready to support both online and offline channels. Hence, we consider the unified commerce an incarnation of omnichannel. However, to get the unified commerce right, we need to learn the lessons of why omnichannel failed so often. To ensure successful transformation, technology unification is not enough — businesses should re-think and consolidate their internal operational processes as well. There are multiple approaches to achieve unified commerce based on current organizational maturity, so both business and technology strategy are equally important to work out before embarking on the journey.

To help you achieve your unified commerce nirvana, consider finding a partner with the expertise in helping companies achieve omnichannel all those years ago. Together, you can realize your omnichannel dream. 


Interested in learning more? Contact us today. 

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