Unified Commerce: The Key to Maximizing Efficiency, Visibility, and Loyalty

Updated: April 25, 2024


Published: April 25, 2024


7 mins read

In today’s competitive eCommerce landscape, consumer experience matters both online and off. To acquire and retain customers, businesses need to meet shoppers’ expectations and deliver a seamless omnichannel experience. And that means having a solid system behind the scenes.

Enter unified commerce—a game-changer for retailers. It's all about getting a clear view of what’s happening across your business, whether it’s on your website, social channels, or in-store. This way, you can give shoppers a smooth shopping experience and easy returns, no matter where or how they shop. 

What is unified commerce?

Unified commerce is a way to tie everything together in retail management. It’s having all your customer touchpoints, sales channels, and behind-the-scenes systems linked up seamlessly. By unifying your operations, you break down the barriers between online and offline shopping, reducing pain points and friction for you and your customers.

At the heart of unified commerce is bringing together all the data and processes along your supply chain. These connections let you see what’s going on in real time—whether it's checking stock levels, tracking orders, or seeing how customers engage with your brand. And that’s essential for keeping things running smoothly and boosting customer satisfaction.

Unified commerce leaders see 3-6x higher revenue growth

According to research conducted by Incisiv, unified commerce leaders—those who offer the richest connected retail experiences—see 3-6 times higher annual revenue growth than non-leaders. But research from Bain & Company shows that while 73% of retailers think unified commerce is extremely or very important, only 44% think they have the tools and resources to deliver those experiences. Merchants who invest in closing that gap have the potential to get ahead of the competition, boost sales, and foster retention.

Unified commerce is your single source of truth for order visibility

Unified commerce vs omnichannel commerce

While people often use these terms interchangeably, there’s a big difference. Omnichannel is all about how customers interact with your brand on the front end, across different channels. Unified commerce, on the other hand, is about what happens on the back end to keep everything humming along—logistics, data management, and technology all converging to give you a full picture and better control.

Both unified and omnichannel commerce play key roles in creating a seamless shopping journey for customers and making the day-to-day easier for merchants.

What you can do with a unified back end (and what you can’t do without one)

The more connected your systems are, the more perks you can offer your customers. Here are a few examples: 

  • Buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS)
  • Buy online and ship to store (BOSS)
  • Buy online and return to store (BORIS)
  • Redeem online promo codes in-store
  • Shop in-store and have items delivered home
  • Check store inventory online before visiting

On the flip side, when a business's back end and front end aren’t connected, it can lead to headaches for everyone. Take order visibility, for example. If a retailer’s systems for online and offline sales don’t talk to each other, it’s hard to get real-time updates on stock levels and order status. This can cause delays in fulfilling orders and providing timely updates, which isn’t great for promoting customer satisfaction or loyalty.

5 benefits of unified commerce

Unified commerce may seem like a no-brainer—of course merchants want enhanced visibility and better store management—but the benefits run much deeper. Here are some ways that better connections lead to better business. 

Connected systems and data

Unified commerce consolidates data from various channels and systems into a central repository, eliminating data silos and ensuring consistent, up-to-date data across your organization.

When you’re selling both online and off, or even across multiple online channels (social platforms, marketplaces, etc.), you need a single source of truth. With connected commerce, you’ll get a comprehensive view of both your back-end operations and your customer data. 

Increased order visibility

Order visibility encompasses the entire fulfillment process—tracking order status, product availability, shipment tracking, and delivery updates. Real-time, accurate information enables businesses to optimize inventory management, reduce fulfillment times, and minimize errors.

With unified commerce, you’ll always know the location of your orders, and can provide timely updates on online, BOPIS, and BOSS orders, as well as on returns. Plus, you’ll know about delays in time to communicate with your customers proactively. 

Deeper insights

Connected systems can give you a treasure trove of data that you can use to assess performance and make important business decisions. Here are just a few insights you can glean with unified commerce:

  • Peak order times
  • Most popular products
  • Average order processing times
  • Carrier performance

With these insights, you can continuously improve your back-end operations and the overall customer experience. You can also accurately plan for peak times, like the holidays, and identify the ideal cutoff times for online ordering.

Streamlined operations

With unified systems, you’ll always have your inventory synced, so you won’t run into situations where customers expect to be able to purchase items that aren’t in stock, either in-store or online. Your warehouse communication will always be accurate, and you’ll have full visibility into your reverse logistics to ensure a seamless returns process. 

Unified commerce can also help you improve your customer support. Unified commerce integrates order data with customer service systems, enabling agents to access order information, resolve issues quickly, and provide personalized assistance. It can also reduce WISMO tickets and free up customer support to focus on more impactful tasks.

Better customer experience 

Although customers can’t see what’s happening on your back end, it impacts their front-end experience. When you’re fully connected, your customers will have access to real-time order tracking in addition to relevant, timely, and personalized communication and product recommendations. 

Think about your own experiences with online shopping. How many times have you placed an order online, only to be met with a static tracking page and radio silence for days or even weeks? With unified commerce, you can keep customers engaged and informed even in the pre-shipment stage, when orders are being processed, prepared, or packed up.

Unified commerce also impacts the returns experience. Connected systems allow for flexible returns options, like BORIS (buy online, return in-store), with full visibility on the back end and less friction on the front. 

When customers have a good experience with your brand, it fosters trust, repeat purchases, long-term loyalty, and brand advocacy. It’s the most important reason to invest in getting every step of the post-purchase journey right.

How AfterShip helps brands build unified commerce operations

The best unified commerce solutions are scalable and flexible, allowing businesses to adapt to changing market conditions, scale operations seamlessly, and support continued growth. Whether expanding into new markets or launching new sales channels, unified commerce provides the infrastructure merchants need to maintain order visibility and operational efficiency.

AfterShip’s all-in-one solution for order tracking, returns management, and SMS and email notifications helps merchants build a unified back-end for every step of the shopping journey. With full visibility into orders, including pre-shipment, transit, reverse logistics, BOPIS, and BOSS, retailers can now deliver better post-purchase experiences across touchpoints. 

AfterShip also integrates with the most popular eCommerce platforms, technology providers, and carriers, so you can harness the power of unified commerce to streamline your operations, boost sales, and foster customer loyalty and retention. 

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