Unified Commerce for Retail: From Empowered Frontlines to Efficient Store-Based Fulfillment

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Prepare for industry changes with modernized retail ecosystems

Your retail organization needs to solve challenges quickly to weather this tumultuous business climate. There are many decisions to consider when it comes to focusing resources. Should your organization continue to double down on your modernization journey? Should you focus on implementing new technology for in-store automation or is creating unique and engaging in-store experiences the top priority? Unified Commerce addresses many of these concerns with demonstrated benefits that modernize an entire retail ecosystem.

In this post, we will explore the concept of Unified Commerce with a focus on store operations

For those catching up on this term, Gartner defines Unified Commerce as a “modern dominant business strategy that provides retail consumers with a continuous experience as they browse, transact, acquire and consume, regardless of touchpoint.” In other words, it is how a retail operation can solidify the throughline between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar channels. After all, what counts as a physical world or digital shopping experience grows increasingly mutable with the increase of technology solutions in retail locations. 

The term Unified Commerce is closely associated with what’s known as omnichannel commerce. While omnichannel commerce refers to the goal of retailers to provide consistent customer-facing channels, Unified Commerce takes the concept even further. With Unified Commerce, even backend systems in real-time are leveraged to build a continuous experience no matter how or where the customer stops or continues their journey.  

Retailers considering a Unified Commerce strategy will plan for the needs of their customers throughout all stages of engagement and across the enterprise, suggesting decision-making and actions at just the right point in the customer journey. 

How IT can Support Unified Commerce

How can IT teams support Unified Commerce strategies for their business when even basic omnichannel strategies can be a struggle to implement? Overall, the need to modernize and consolidate solutions within a retailer’s technical landscape is a must. Look for platforms that provide reusability and composability, as well as the ability to “integrate with anything.” Modern app dev platforms enable connected back-end processes to make the right data accessible and actionable at the right place and right time. A modern app dev platform with cloud-native and native mobile capabilities enables the creation of digital experiences that are required for the way employees and customers expect to do business today. 

 Now let’s discuss how a modern app dev platform can help you achieve your Unified Commerce goals. 

Empowered Frontline with App-Based Digital Solutions

A recent report in Retail Dive shows that the industry can expect continued labor shortages. Citing a 2022 survey by Deloitte, which shows 74% of senior retail executives expect labor shortages in customer-facing positions, Retail Dive concludes that there is still reason to be optimistic as new technology is “helping retailers move through turbulent times.” 

74% of retail executives expect continued labor shortages but new technology is “helping retailers move through turbulent times.”

Unified Commerce is a necessity under these circumstances as customer service in-store can be prioritized with digitalized processes for inventory accuracy and accessing customer information. Equipped in-store associates and exceptional in-store experiences that have customers returning time and time again are huge competitive advantages for retailers. Data makes the difference here. 

Large troves of data can be captured in a physical store location to: 

  • Enable insights across the organization 
  • Impact product assortments
  • Decrease the amount of safety stock
  • Reduce wastefulness

There are many emerging solutions on the market today using AI to increase inventory accuracy. As retailers begin to deploy and test these offerings in stores, modern app dev platforms can provide a “single pane of glass” view into the many sources of data coming out of the store. 

Imagine if a retailer could connect the insights and actions from AI inventory accuracy tools into their own adaptable, task-oriented mobile application and tie it into a Superapp that also includes product details, customer profiles and history, and employee-specific information like task lists and training materials. Now the staff with this tool is empowered to be out on the floor, completing tasks, assisting customers, and creating the personable in-store experience that every retailer strives for—rather than bogged down with menial work at a computer. 

Rather than feeling bogged down with menial work at a computer, retail staff are empowered with apps that help them assist customers and provide delightful in-store experiences.

A global retailer used Mendix to build a task management tablet app that replaced an older SharePoint solution. This app saves each store manager thirty minutes a day across 330 locations. Users receive details on daily promotions and task lists tailored to their role and store location, with the ability to add attachments, comments, and feedback. The tasks and actions are all centrally managed and disseminated to the stores. Performance is tracked by central users and area managers with action lists being fully auditable. This retailer also added a robust Help section with training materials to reduce the expense of retail staff training. 

Operational Efficiency with Flexible Apps

According to the 2022 ChaseDesign | JGA Tech at Retail Survey, more than 70% of shoppers believe that out-of-stock issues present a problem and that technology can help improve stocking. Another Mendix customer—a global retailer with $1B annual revenuebuilt an in-store app to digitalize a manual inventory transfer process across its network of 700 brick-and-mortar locations. The operational efficiency gained by saving time with store transfers and depleting inventory by moving where the demand is located is only overshadowed by the improved customer experience. Inventory transfers, before the Mendix app, regularly disrupted store employees and added tedious tasks to their already overextended list of responsibilities. Now employees can focus on servicing customers in-store, and customers benefit from the ease of transfers by finding the products they are interested in at their desired location. 

The use cases for in-store enablement are endless.  

While you’re at it, assess how your hourly employees are self-servicing their schedules. Is it still necessary to have text threads and notes posted in the breakroom when an employee needs to swap a shift? ShiftSwap, a template in the Mendix Marketplace, empowers sales associates and supervisors with flexible and adaptable shift schedule management including a shift marketplace and the ability to swap shifts directly with a QR code, prompting an immediate review by a supervisor.   

In-Store Automation for Seamless Shopping Experiences

A recent article in RIS points out how self-checkout technology has “completely changed the retail experience by allowing customers to quickly and easily complete their transactions without having to wait in line.” This is a widely adopted technology that has transformed the everyday shopping experience for the public and it’s only the first of many in-store automation examples we will see become the norm. Retailers are focusing on in-store automation to increase efficiencies and data insights that can impact the whole organization, as well as drive increased profits. 

New in-store automation technologies could soon prove to be just as game-changing as self-checkout. Such innovations include real-time inventory monitoring, beacons and Bluetooth-enabled tech, and IoT innovations. Gartner’s 2022 CIO and Technology Executive Survey showed 73% of retail respondents plan to increase investments in store technologies this year alone.  

New in-store technologies like real time inventory monitoring, beacons and Bluetooth-enabled tech, and IoT innovations could be as game-changing as self-checkout.

These are exciting developments. There are many sophisticated point solutions in the market which also result in exponentially increasing the number of data sources coming from a physical store location. How will you pull all this data together into a visual aggregation that provides insights to store managers and headquarters? Mendix provides an easy way to integrate into disparate technologies, providing the “single source of truth” across differing data sets and actionable insights for stakeholders.  

Automation solutions will also have a great impact on inventory accuracy. With inventory accuracy in stores being much lower than distribution centers (70%-90% compared to more than 99.5% accurate), the process of offering store-based fulfillment methods and accurately tracking customer demand in a specific region is less reliable.  

As for the tactical side of in-store automation, specifically the idea of smart check-outs—every retailer aims to provide a frictionless and reliable shopping experience in-store. The Mendix Scan & Go template allows customers to plan their shopping trip ahead of time by reviewing store information, creating a shopping list, and even selecting a BOPIS fulfillment method. This is a fully customizable, native-mobile template designed to facilitate a rich shopping experience with access to product data and “shop-from-list” functionality using a mobile camera and the generation of a QR code for self–checkout. 

Store-Based Fulfillment Supercharged with Omnichannel Integration Layer Solutions

The more eyes on an item, the better chance of it selling. That’s where digital channels for fulfillment and inventory are critical to operations: as a way to ensure a retailer is not left with “dead” inventory. For example, according to Gartner’s 2021 digital commerce survey, 57% of respondents highlight BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup in Store) as the most important fulfillment method for digital commerce. Fulfilling orders from a store location reduces last-mile costs of delivery and it allows customers to pick up the item on their own terms and timelines.   

Many retailers stitched together these offerings in response to the pandemic. It’s now evident the customer expectation of accessing these fulfillment methods is not waning. Retailers must focus on improving these experiences, for both the customer and from a bottom-line perspective (did you know, according to a report by McKinsey, the cost of in-store picking is 1.5 to 2 times higher than in a DC or FC?). Automating store-based micro-fulfillment is ripe with unique use cases that can be solved with the Mendix platform: picklists and pickpath creation for store employees, transfer of inventory from physical to virtual locations, B2C engagement for pickup process enablement, and so on. 

It’s now evident that customers expect BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup in Store) and Unified Commerce solutions for inventory.

A trusted Mendix partner, Magnus Black, built Omnichannel Integration Layer (OIL), a holistic solution for retailers looking to seamlessly integrate e-commerce and physical store operations. This solution provides visibility of inventory in physical stores to digital sales channels and centralizes sales, fulfillment, returns, and inventory management processes from the backend allowing for a more seamless workflow. Magnus Black helped a retailer spin up BOPAC offerings in 6 weeks when the pandemic hit, ensuring the retailer could continue to operate and provide outstanding customer service when consumers were unable to enter the store.  

Retail Organizations Modernized with Unified Commerce

A modern application development platform is a great tool to create consistent experiences for users while backend systems are modernized. In addition, Unified Commerce with a modern app dev platform can accelerate time to value with low-code development, reusability, and upskilling the entire workforce. Mendix offers an ecosystem of accelerators, full solutions, and out-of-the-box connectors that equip retail organizations with many options to meet their strategic goals. Modernized systems benefit employees on a day-to-day basis as the technology allows the team to focus on core responsibilities rather than tedious tasks that can be automated. 

Ultimately, Unified Commerce will prepare your organization for the uncertain future ahead, empower your staff, ensure efficient fulfillment and build a streamlined and flexible store experience to delight customers. 

Unified Commerce is among the highlighted trends in Gartner’s Top Trends in Retail Digital Transformation and Innovation for 2022 report. Get your copy of the report here.