Demystifying unified retail – a holistic approach to retail
We can personify the retail sector by its ability to evolve continuously. Amazon continues to be at the forefront of change through its Dash and Echo, and continued expansion into areas such as entertainment, sports and healthcare. It’s fascinating to see that, despite the eCommerce giant’s success, it has begun to invest back into the physical high street.
Having a robust omnichannel strategy has become paramount, as shoppers love the convenience of online shopping, but still value the ability to visit in-store. Unified retail takes this one step further by breaking down the concept of different channels, and looking at the retail experience as a holistic offering.
But what is unified retail? Should retailers be investing in unified retail? Or, is it another buzzword that will come and go?
We sat down with our very own Chief Technology Officer, Rick Hobbs, to learn more about the intricacies of unified retail, and understand how it will influence our industry.
Q - Rick, what does the concept of unified retail actually mean?
“It can be easy to take the cynical view that the industry is simply inventing a new buzzword. Whilst that is technically true (the phrase is quite new), it does go further than omnichannel. Omnichannel is all about enabling your customer to transact easily from one channel to another. Unified retail takes this one-step further. It goes beyond a technical integration of multiple channels and focuses on the customer journey as a whole, regardless of the channel.”
Q - So, what makes it so different from existing retail strategies?
“It is about creating new, transient experiences that respond rapidly to market or social trends. For example, noticing a particular meme and using that as the basis for a campaign to drive customers towards an exclusive event in-store or a new range of products online. Extending this further, retailers can tie in exclusive deals with next-day delivery options and even offer an exclusive reward to customers that engage with the brand on social media.”
"It's about making sure the retail experience doesn't end at the point of purchase."
Q - Why should a retailer that already has a robust omnichannel offering care about unified retail?
“Modern shoppers are becoming increasingly interested in experiences over a brand name. Unified retail can offer the customer flexibility to shop how and when they want, while also giving them targeted and appropriate offers and recommendations that are exclusive and will enrich the overall experience. In fact, this is the exact reason why Amazon has thrived – its product is seamless, second-to-none and consistently convenient.”
Q - This all sounds great! But aren't there pain points the retailer will have to consider?
“Yes, unified retail isn’t something that can just be implemented and achieved in an instant. The hardest problem is identifying a customer as the same person in every retail interaction. Email addresses are often used, but not necessarily a reliable identifier for an individual. It is important to use as much information as the customer is willing to share in order to identify them back to a single record."
Q - Could AI play a role in helping retailers?
“Quite possibly. AI relies on having good data to work from and for that data to be well-structured and well-organised. However, what is more relevant as a starting point is good strong data analysis and engineering principals to infer patterns and trends from data to, for example, build customer segments and groups."
"AI can then start to make decisions around when to engage with a customer, what specific offers to provide and much more."
Q - OK, we have discussed the concept, implementation and potential benefit of AI. What about the financial benefits?
“It’s quite hard to tell because there isn’t enough experience and knowledge of unified retail in retail at the moment. With that said, there are some valid points to consider:
- For many retailers, it will involve a fairly large upfront investment in business change and technology
- Following investment into the infrastructure needed to support a unified model, the potential for cost reduction will depend on how much automation these systems can bring
- It may allow for a more effective use of retail space by reducing the need to keep stock on site, thus freeing up the showroom. This will result in a heavier reliance on resilient delivery operations
- It is likely that the skills required to make this effective, particularly in store, will require a greater investment in training”
Q - The last question – can unified retail then connect to marketing activity?
“The principal of unified retail is about personalisation that is done well. Marketing is exactly the same. It requires clean data, the appropriate engineering and in-depth analysis in order to understand what is truly personal to each customer. By offering exclusive products and experiences, customers will receive the information that they want to see. Retailers should view it as an opportunity to connect the entire business – marketing, sales and so forth – together.
If you would like to learn more about unified retail, please refer to Retail Week’s latest research, which features Rick’s expert analysis.