The Importance of Ecommerce Integration and Unified Commerce

By Kristy Blackmon
 

Imagine this: A 35-year-old father of two makes his weekly run to the local superstore. As he pushes his cart through the front doors, he opens up the store’s app. His Alexa shopping list syncs up, organizing itself into groups according to the store’s layout: produce, bakery, canned goods, and so forth. The app lists prices not only of the items on the list, but also of the store’s competing generic brands. It automatically applies any relevant in-store or online coupons, as well as any rewards associated with the store’s loyalty program. Because he’s connected the app with his AllRecipes.com account, it automatically asks if he’d like to add any ingredients for recipes he’s recently looked at to his list. If he does, the exact items are integrated automatically.

 

He walks the aisles, and when he passes the personal care section, a discreet notification reminds him it’s been a while since he bought razors, and the store is having a sale. He throws a package in his cart. His oldest child is about to start high school, and while he’s debating the relative merits of one calculator over another, the app notices he’s been standing in the back-to-school section for more than 10 minutes and asks if he needs help. It brings up customer reviews of the calculators the store carries and even offers a live chat feature in case he can’t find the answers to his questions.

 

Shopping complete, he approaches the checkout line. Whether he chooses a human cashier or self-checkout, the system greets him by name, asks if he found everything he needs, and double-checks his scanned purchases against his shopping list to ensure he’s leaving with everything he came for. He realizes he left his wallet at home, but it’s not a problem: He can pay with his mobile wallet or a credit card he’s stored within the app. At home, the app updates the rewards his purchases have earned and the suggestions it will offer during next week’s trip.

 

On the back end, an RFID sensor tracks the dad’s movements throughout the store, analyzing where he spent the most time, which products he debated over, and which he ultimately purchased. Using predictive analytics, it builds a customer profile that shows he’s more likely to buy generic over name brand, prefers organic produce, and shops at a store in an urban, middle-class neighborhood. The system integrates his consumer information with that of other shoppers to automatically place orders for inventory, making note of which products might not be performing as expected and which are flying off the shelves.

 

Because the shopper connected his social media accounts to the app, the system can build an even more comprehensive profile that shows which online communities he’s a member of and which retail pages he interacts with the most. The next time he logs on, the store displays ads for the products it anticipates he’ll shop for next week, with an option to add them to an online shopping cart in case he doesn’t want to swing by in person. It monitors his online activity to automatically create social campaigns targeted to his profile and incentives that will bring him back into the store.

 

The entire process happens automatically and in real time. The ultimate result is a satisfied and loyal customer, data-driven market decisions, improved operational efficiencies, and a stellar social media presence and reputation.

 

This may sound like a futuristic scenario out of reach of all but the most resource-wealthy enterprises. In fact, it’s called unified commerce, and with the right technological investment, it’s ready and available for any company to use to improve their customer experience.

 

Most retailers are probably familiar with omnichannel commerce, in which information that’s used to capture customer data and manage retail operations comes in through a multitude of channels: your customer relationship management (CRM) platform, inventory management software, and point-of-sale systems, for example.

 

Unified commerce takes omnichannel a step further to pull all of that information together with full integration of all software systems and databases into one platform. This creates a single, comprehensive view of retail operations and consumer profiles in real time and across mobile, web, and brick-and-mortar operations. The result is a smooth, transparent funnel for the retailer and a seamless shopping experience for the customer.

Under the Hood of Unified Commerce

A true unified commerce solution requires extensive integration of software solutions within a single, centralized ecommerce platform. Not only will unified commerce improve consumer experiences and provide comprehensive customer profiles to enable more insightful sales initiatives, it also allows for consolidation of the myriad operating systems, servers, devices, licenses, and applications inherent in omnichannel sales solutions. One of the major benefits to cloud solutions is their ability to enable operational efficiencies, and a cloud-based unified commerce platform is no different.

 

The magic of a unified commerce platform lies in its ability to integrate all of a retailer’s different software solutions into one single pane of glass, and that requires development that can come in the form of application program interfaces (APIs), master data management (MDM) solutions, business process management (BPM) systems, and more. There are several approaches to a complex systems integration required for unified commerce, but the common thread is that they leverage a robust, single platform, either on-premise or in the cloud, that can link legacy systems, data, and services across the entire platform in real time.

 

API Integration

Application Program Interfaces (APIs) are, in simple terms, the method by which different systems talk to one another. They’re used to perform certain workflows within their respective applications, where a trigger event starts a chain of activities that drives events and updates within other tools or applications. In this way, data and processes are integrated between systems. APIs have become de rigueur in the information technology industry in part because they often require a lower level of technical knowledge to maneuver and manipulate.

Business Process Integration

Systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms are a good example of business process integration (BPI), which securely shares data across applications and automates operational processes. BPI maps workflows from disparate systems into one meta-system, then creates definitions for how each application interacts. It’s the “if this, then that” logic of business processes.

Data Integration

Integration can also take place at the database level. An ETL process refers to the three steps that integrates data from different sources: It extracts data from the source system, transforms it to be readable by the target system, and then loads it into that target system. ETLs typically move data in batches, for example on an hourly or daily basis. Therefore, that doesn’t make them ideal for real-time applications like unified commerce. An alternative is to leverage an integration platform as a service (iPaaS) that uses automated tools to connect different software systems. iPaaS systems can integrate on-premise applications and cloud applications in real-time or near real-time.

User Interface Integration

Whereas APIs integrate data at the workflow level, and ETLs and iPaaS systems integrate it at the database level, UI integration brings data together at the presentation level. Presentation integration leverages middleware to provide one consolidated view of data that comes from multiple sources into one interface. The more systems involved in the integration, the clunkier and less effective UI integration becomes. Presentation integration, therefore, isn’t ideal for modern webs of applications that bring together sometimes dozens of systems into one interface.

 

There’s no single best practice for a unified commerce integration. Every retailer is different, uses different systems, and requires different features and functions. No two integrations are alike, with different real-time and batch interface points, clients, and servers. However, a cloud-based unified commerce platform is the option of choice for many retailers, as it offers flexibility and a variety of integration and implementation methods.

 

The good news is that there are vendors that sell unified commerce solutions that make integrations far more manageable. And once complete, having one comprehensive view of customer behavior and retail operations provides significant competitive advantage over retailers that run omnichannel efforts with disparate systems. These systems integrate ecommerce “behind the scenes, giving you a single and unified view of all relevant information in real-time — stores, customers, interactions, promotions, orders, products, inventory, pricing, and more.”

 

Success for retailers comes from two directions: streamlined, efficient operations, and optimized customer experiences. In the age of omnichannel commerce, the lines between the two are increasingly blurred. Unified commerce is just the next logical step in the evolution of retail operations, and SMBs that invest in it early will take the lead in winning the hearts and minds of consumers.

In a digital age when applications are king, you must ensure that your ecommerce platform is capable of supporting additional applications. If an online retailer’s system is unable to implement proprietary or targeted APIs and features, it will fall behind its competitors.

 

Elevating your online presence and purchasing process to accommodate today’s consumers is far from easy. You have to stay secure, compliant, easy to use, and predictive in your automation tools. In particular, standards around regulations and customer experience can make any online retailer want to pull their hair out. But where compliance mandates and user experience converge, there’s opportunity to provide secure, seamless ecommerce capabilities that can give you an edge over your competitors.

 

Learn more about Commerce Cloud, our comprehensive ecommerce solution that offers flexible implementations, customizations, easy personalization, and ongoing customer innovations.

 
 

Kristy Blackmon

Kris Blackmon has over a decade of experience writing and editing, working in daily journalism, long-form non-fiction, marketing, research, and policy. For the last several years, she has developed a focus on startups, technology, and the socioeconomic changes that come with the digital age. She believes in the power of words as a vehicle for social change, and she's rarely ambivalent about anything. She makes a mean guacamole, is addicted to solo travel, and in the Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate, she comes down squarely on the side of Battlestar Galactica.

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