Seasonal sale, coupons, flat-discounts, experience boutique, privileged club, open all days 24x7 and fast checkout counters - the retail industry is a house of innovation for attracting footfalls garnering eyeballs. A business's ability to delight its customers is what matters to grow in this fast-changing retail industry. From traditional brick & mortar to online selling to multichannel, the retail sector has come a long way in reinventing itself over the years. And with each of these incremental phases, retailers have upgraded their IT systems and tools to strengthen business operations. POS, merchandising tools, CRM, ERP, inventory management, e-commerce platforms, and financial software are standard IT systems that have helped the retail industry manage its large-scale business.

From retail evolution to revolution

In the retail business evolution, the omnichannel model has played a pivotal role as it opened up numerous possibilities for retailers. The omnichannel model has aligned front-end interfaces with backend systems and empowered retailers to serve their customers better. True to its evolutionary nature, today, even the omnichannel retail model has hit the plateau. While shifting from multichannel to omnichannel, retailers have employed home-grown systems and technologies to integrate all the backend systems. Having multiple systems up and running, continually manoeuvring integration issues while keeping IT costs within budgets can be a complex process. Furthermore, they must envisage this process as a continuously evolving one. IT teams must periodically revisit these quadrants to see how best they can improvise to sustain positive outcomes and meet business objectives. Because constant frictions on operations have, unfortunately, resulted in fragmented buyer journeys and run-of-the-mill customer experiences.

Many retailers are now favouring Unified Commerce, an architecture approach that helps retail brands revolutionize how they can deliver unparalleled customer experience to digital-age customers. The need for yet another wave of transition might send shockwaves to IT teams. Anyone can emphasize with their fears given the scale of changes that the systems have to undergo without affecting everyday operations. A trusted partner who understands the retail business's nuances and has skilled technical expertise can mitigate the risks involved in the journey to Unified Commerce. A guided, step-by-step approach can assure successful implementation.

Aspire’s 4-quadrant approach to retail excellence

Aspire Systems has been helping global retailers to charter seamless unified commerce journeys. The team has developed a cyclical four-quadrant framework to help retail brands move into a unified technology platform. The four quadrants of the framework are Enablement, Integration, Experience, and Insights. Each of these quadrants is centred on solving complex retail problems. The enablement quadrant focuses on about tethering scattered IT systems. As the name indicates, the experience quadrant enables retailers to augment customer engagement with unified and contextual experiences. Finally, the insights quadrant assists retailers to uncover hidden insights in order to finetune and enhance the quality of these experiences.

The unique advantage of this cyclical quadrant is flexibility. The IT systems and the business needs of every retailer are different. The data of a countrywide retail chain would be massive, where data integration plays a crucial role, and that would the starting of the transition. On the other hand, there could be another retail brand with a few stores but offers an extensive range of products whose need would be to get product-specific insights. So, that brand's first focus would be the insights quadrant. The flexible framework can initiate the unified commerce journey at any of the four quadrants, allowing retailers to address their specific business needs.

Milestone 1: Enable seamless cooperation of systems

Multiple interfaces operate on the front line of a retail business – online commerce, UI navigation, mobile payment systems, POS, and merchandise scanner. All these interfaces and systems are interconnected, like a complicated maze. Whether DevOps, CRM, or cloud migration or deployment, the lack of unity in step one can cause business disruption that, ultimately, affects customer engagement. The enablement quadrant goes beyond merely providing a connected ecosystem. It helps capitalize on proven technologies like AI, Cloud, and IoT that will have a positive impact on customer experiences. With IT and business teams operating in sync, product launches, feature upgrades, and account updates can be seamlessly communicated to the customer. By aligning not systems, but people too, this quadrant bridges the gaps between IT and business.

Milestone 2: Aggregate the unified truth of data

It is not an exaggeration to refer to the retail industry as a data monster given the sheer volume of data that hits the IT storage rack of every minute and making meaning out that data is a mammoth task. A retail business deals with different types of data – customer, warehouse, finance, products, staff, sales, etc. The data quadrant aims to collect, synthesize, and channel data into two primary streams: customer data hub and product data hub. The focus here is to get a 360-degree view of customers and a single truth source for products. These two data hubs will help retailers build their sales, marketing, product, and customer retention strategies.

Milestone 3: Utilize technology to enhance experiences

Enhanced experience is the secret sauce of differentiated retail. Most retailers bet high on experience selling as that is what digital-savvy customers want today. The quadrant also helps in utilizing niche technologies such as AR/VR, Smart Mirrors, and Voice/visual-based search to augment customer experiences. Retailers can now ensure that customers receive consistent and unified experiences across channels, without repetitive or irrelevant messaging. Customers can effortlessly pick up from where they left off, no matter the conversation or the channel. This quadrant helps transform customers who receive great experiences into brand advocates who make public their loyalty.

Milestone 4: Discover insights to delight customers

Since customer satisfaction is the holy grail of retail growth, the insights quadrant focuses on continuously improving CSAT scores. Analytics draws a multitude of insights from various parameters, such as customer browsing patterns, buying preferences, lifestyle data, purchasing cycles, and lifetime purchase value. It also pulls out valuable product-focused information, which would help retailers understand collective purchasing trends. These real-time insights can assist retailers to better understand customer journeys, channel engagement, and campaign performance. This quadrant also provides actionable insights so that they can personalize how they connect with customers, plan their sales and marketing initiatives, and prioritize channel activities. These, in turn, go a long way to maximize ROI on experiences.

Following a structured plan to close the four quadrants' cyclical loop is an essential part of the unified commerce transition. Each these quadrants must be high on any modern retailer’s playbook while trying to create a cohesive path to unified commerce. But different companies may be in different stage of future readiness. Hence, their priority must be based on ensuring that all the moving parts are in place before focusing on what requires rethinking to amplify outcomes.

Aspire Systems can help retail businesses of all sizes to move into unified commerce.