Unified Commerce vs. Omnichannel: What’s the Difference?

Unified Commerce vs Omnichannel: Are They the Same Thing?

Over the years, ‘unified commerce’ and ‘omnichannel’ have emerged as buzzwords making waves in retail.

Since the notion of unified commerce was introduced following omnichannel, they are often construed as being one and the same. However, conflating these terms isn’t necessarily correct.

When taking a closer look at the nuances between the two, we establish that they are related, but not synonymous.

Two Paths to the Same End

It’s easy to assume that omnichannel commerce and unified commerce are interchangeable. Both describe cross-channel strategies that seek to unify the consumer experience along various touchpoints for a cohesive, frictionless buying journey.

However, the fundamental difference between the two lies in how this cohesion is achieved.

With a unified commerce approach, every channel and touchpoint is orchestrated from a single point (platform), centralizing all systems, resources, and customer interactions into one place. The advantage of a unified commerce strategy is that it creates a centralized framework that creates a single view of the consumer across all sales channels.

With traditional omnichannel strategies, parallel channels (e.g. mobile, web, in-store, etc.), systems and resources require integration to cooperate with one another to provide a unified consumer experience.  An omnichannel approach is decentralized, resulting in a siloed view of the consumer from the perspective of each sales channel.

Different Consumer Journeys

Due to the inherent differences between the two, unified commerce and omnichannel lead to different consumer journeys.

For instance, with omnichannel commerce, a consumer may be able to browse local inventory on a merchant’s e-commerce site or app, but when going to a physical store, sales associates have no way to tell who they are or what merchandise they were previously looking at while online.

Following a unified commerce approach, customers who visit a store after having previously browsed inventory online are met by knowledgeable sales staff equipped with mobile devices where they can access a shoppers’ profile and stated preferences.

Additionally, a retailer with a unified commerce strategy could provide relevant, personalized coupons and discounts on items to the consumer in-store.

In short, unified commerce matches consumers with all the necessary related information to complete their purchase, along with personalized recommendations to inspire additional sales. 

Points of Friction with Omnichannel Retail Experiences

Due to its decentralized nature, omnichannel commerce can cause friction that disrupts the consumer shopping experience.

Disconnection between components of the buying journey in omnichannel commerce can often lead to a disjointed retail experience across sales channels and informational siloes.

The result: consumers lack context, while retailers are left with limited visibility and actionable insight on shoppers.  

Unified commerce is better suited to break down existing siloes between data flows and channels. This centralization allows for the easier exchange of information and oversight, enabling retailers to leverage critical consumer insights to provide seamless cross-channel experiences in real time.

The Evolution of Commerce

Although both strategies ultimately aspire for a seamless, cohesive consumer journey across sales channels, unified commerce makes good on everything omnichannel promised but is unable to deliver.

As the buying journey becomes increasingly convoluted with the emergence of new digital touchpoints and shopping channels, unified commerce is the next step in the evolution of multi-channel commerce to deliver a seamless consumer experience.

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