a person holding several shopping bags on a dark backround

The Evolution of Retail: From Single Channel to Unified Commerce

Retailers have come a long way, moving from single-channel commerce to offering multiple individual channels. Then came the era of cross-channel and omni-channel commerce. These transitions aimed to cater to customers' diverse shopping behaviors, allowing them to interact with brands through various touchpoints. However, the journey doesn't end there.
To meet modern consumers' expectations for seamless and exceptional experiences regardless of how they engage, retailers must now evolve to Unified Commerce. Gartner defines Unified Commerce as "a business strategy that provides retail consumers with a continuous experience as they browse, transact, acquire, and consume, regardless of touchpoints."

The Challenge: Bridging the Gap

While the concept of Unified Commerce is clear, some retailers remain stuck in the world of multiple, yet disconnected channels. They struggle to offer the unified experience that customers now demand. The question is: Why do some find it so difficult to progress?
To succeed in delivering true Unified Commerce, there are four key areas that need to be addressed based on our experience of delivering solutions to some of Europe's largest retailers.

1. Rethink the Language of Commerce

First and foremost, it's time to stop talking about channels. The distinctions between store commerce, eCommerce, offline, online, digital, and physical commerce are fading. In the end, it's all just commerce. It's all blending into a non-linear shopping experience, and in 2023 it is always online and digital. To miss this transformation is to miss the essence of modern retail.

2. Organizational Alignment

Effective change requires organizations that reflect the Unified Commerce vision. When retailers organize with different VPs or C-level management for each channel, with individual goals and objectives (and even individual P&Ls) complete unity remains elusive as it will always be suboptimal. True Unified Commerce necessitates a restructured approach where touchpoints converge seamlessly, guided by overall business outcomes. Flattening hierarchies and forming teams centered around the customer experience, across all touchpoints, become essential.

3. Embrace the Right Technology

None of the above matters unless technology aligns. Many retailers still rely on legacy systems that hinder progress. Attempting to integrate these monolithic and outdated applications often leads to nightmares. Waiting for infrequent updates, plagued by complex dependencies, is costly and risky. Retailers need a platform designed for Unified Commerce, with four core components:
A single engine and cart to underpin transactions across touchpoints. This guarantees consistency throughout the customer journey, eradicating the complexity and risk of integrations and data transfers, while providing uniformity in pricing and promotions.
A composable platform that facilitates real-time interoperability between front-end and back-end components, enabling a cohesive shopping experience.
Retailers must orchestrate the shopping experience to enable customers to seamlessly initiate and conclude transactions from any touchpoint, regardless of when, where, or how they choose to shop. Such a platform also serves as the foundation for harnessing the power of ML and AI technologies, driving enhanced intelligence and crafting genuinely unique and personalized experiences. These capabilities are indispensable in meeting customer expectations, including personalized merchandising strategies. It's the crucial element for achieving a unified view of customer behavior and a comprehensive understanding of how customers interact with their brand. And, it offers retailers opportunities to optimize operational decisions for sustained profitability.
A headless platform that allows for retailers to develop unique experiences while maintaining seamless operations.
A scalable platform that continuously evolves with capabilities and innovations, ideally born in the cloud and built on microservices.
Getting such capabilities from platforms and applications undertaken a mere "lift and shift" approach (often claimed as an easy path to a "cloud" status) poses significant challenges. This is primarily because these platforms and applications were never originally designed to operate in such a context. In the best-case scenario, it becomes a costly endeavor, but in the worst-case scenario, retailers may find their ambitious visions unattainable. These applications and platforms were initially constructed as monolithic systems, rooted in inflexible dependencies and built on the premise of large, periodic releases and manual scaling. They were never built to utilize the full potential of the cloud for deployment and automatic scaling.

4. Empower Your Staff: Elevating the Human-Tech Partnership

In the quest for an exceptional customer experience, it's vital to remember that technology isn't solely reserved for customers; it's equally transformative for your staff. Too often, employees encounter a digital downgrade the moment they step into their workplace, especially in physical stores compared to their daily lives. Gone are the apps and tools they rely on in their personal lives to enhance efficiency and enjoy exciting experiences.

To truly deliver outstanding customer experiences, it's essential to ensure that your store staff enjoys equally great experiences. When employees are empowered and equipped with the right technological tools, they become better engaged with customers, enhancing productivity and efficiency in their roles.
To foster a happier, more empowered workforce, businesses must bridge the digital divide. A staff armed with the right technology experiences higher job satisfaction, engagement, and motivation. It's not just about enhancing their own work experiences but, most importantly, about enabling them to deliver superior customer service. Empowered employees are more likely to engage better with customers. Equipped with user-friendly, efficient tools, they can offer swift assistance, access real-time information, and personalize interactions.

Efficiency and productivity are cornerstones of a successful business operation. By providing your staff with the right technology, you enable them to streamline tasks, reduce manual effort, and dedicate more time to engaging with customers. This not only benefits staff members but also optimizes overall operational efficiency.

In conclusion, the integration of technology into the employee experience is a win-win scenario. When staff members are equipped with the tools they need to excel, they become brand ambassadors who deliver exceptional service. The result is a harmonious blend of human expertise and technological innovation, driving customer satisfaction and loyalty while fostering a motivated and engaged workforce. In today's competitive landscape, this approach is not just a choice but a strategic imperative.

Unlocking Unified Commerce with Extenda Retail

At Extenda Retail, we've witnessed the culmination of over three years of joint research and development: Hii (High-Intensity Intelligent) Retail. Leveraging the advantages of the native Google Cloud Platform, the composable Hii Retail platform delivers SaaS applications and services in a microservices-based pattern. It's designed for retailers seeking to re-architect the in-store shopping experience, offering flexibility across traditional POS, self-service shopping, e-commerce marketplaces, and websites — all under one platform.
In a world that continues to pose financial challenges, retailers must embrace change, adapt to Unified Commerce, and leverage technology to provide the seamless, exceptional experiences consumers and staff now expect. With the right strategy and the right tools, the future of retail holds exciting possibilities. Unified Commerce is not just a concept; it's the path forward for those ready to embrace it.

We are now helping some of our most innovative customers on this exciting journey. They understand evolution is not just a choice; it's a necessity, they are doing it and it will make them leaders in their segment. It is super exciting!

In the dynamic landscape of retail, evolution is not just a choice; it's a necessity. As technology advances and consumer expectations rise, retailers must adapt to stay relevant. In this blog, I will try to explore the concept of Unified Commerce and why it's crucial for retailers in today's digital age.


Thomas Staven

Chief Product Officer (CPO) at Extenda Retail

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