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    Omnichannel vs. Unified Commerce: What You Need To Know

    June 6, 2023
    11 minute read
    Omnichannel vs. Unified Commerce: What You Need To Know

    The digital shelf is like a dance floor — and a crowded one, at that. Countless shoppers shift every which way — seemingly however they please — but occasionally can be captivated by a particular channel, guided by a particular groove.

    There’s also a dash of tension, a bit of sweat, a semi-predictable rhythm, and the impending possibility of a massive change at any point (or beat drop). If you’re lucky, however, your organization just might sashay right into the spotlight.

    While determining what shoppers want can feel like a delicate dance, some expectations of modern shoppers are clear: They want seamless, connected shopping experiences with them in mind.

    Two different ways to achieve this are omnichannel commerce and unified commerce. But what’s the difference between the two? How can you know which one will suit you and your customers the best?

    Learn the basics of what omnichannel commerce and unified commerce are, and gain a comparison of omnichannel versus unified commerce.

    What Is Omnichannel Commerce?

    Omnichannel commerce is the seamless connection of customer touch points and channels — that continue to expand and intertwine — with the goal of creating a compelling, cohesive customer experience. Shoppers can be exposed to an omnichannel commerce experience any time they browse or buy from direct-to-consumer (DTC) sites, in-store or online, as well as on social media.

    In other words, omnichannel commerce is when brands or retailers seek to create a cohesive experience from the perspective of the consumer: It’s more brand-centric.

    And it’s important to modern shoppers. Omnichannel commerce comes into play for how consumers find new products and how they ultimately buy them.

    Omnichannel Commerce Promotes New Product Discovery

    According to Salsify’s “2023 Consumer Research” report, shoppers now most often find new products through social media.

    Top 5 Ways Consumers Find New Products

    1. Social media
    2. Shopping apps
    3. Browsing in store
    4. Search engine
    5. Catalogs or brochures

    Source: Salsify's "2023 Consumer Research" Report

    Omnichannel Commerce Promotes Diverse Shopping Options

    Salsify research also reports that consumers are inclined to purchase items equally in-store or online, making it imperative that brands and retailers can deliver no matter where shoppers end up.

    Where Shoppers Are Most Likely to Buy

    1. In-store                                             68%
    2. On a retail site                                  68%
    3. On a retail app                                  38%
    4. Through drive-up services                35%
    5. On a brand’s own site                       28%
    6. Through a search engine                  24%

       Source: Salsify's "2023 Consumer Research" Report


    What Is Unified Commerce?

    Unified commerce is the seamless connection of the front-end customer experience to back-end operations. Customers are the channels driving information to the organization versus shopping channels driving customers.

    Their data informs the internal facets of an organization’s operations, such as what products a customer views or places in their cart (and on what platform), what inventory resides where, and so on.

    In other words, unified commerce (or unified ecommerce) is when brands or retailers seek to create a cohesive experience both from the perspective of the consumer and of the consumer on the back end: It’s more customer-centric. 

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

    Some differences between omnichannel vs. unified commerce lie in their structure, not necessarily their intent.

    Both structures encourage increased shopper spending — 30% more, in fact, per financial technology platform Adyen’s “Unified Commerce Index.” (That is, shoppers who connect with a retailer on more than one channel.)

    Omnichannel Commerce Is More Brand-Centric

    Again, omnichannel commerce is when brands or retailers seek to create a cohesive experience from the perspective of the consumer: It’s more brand-centric. 

    Omnichannel commerce ensures that an organization appears consistently across the digital shelf through:

    • Product information;
    • Content; and
    • Experiences.

    It’s about consumers finding and interacting with your brand at various points on their path to purchase. Organizations doing it right, however, have ways of collecting data across channels and later leveraging it for personalized offers, recommendations, and more via customer profiles.

    But, even with all this power, omnichannel commerce may leave gaps in intel.

    For example, after much deliberation, a customer may place a pair of sunglasses in their cart on one channel like Instagram.

    Later, however, when they finally decide to revisit their purchase by clicking a text offer they received from the brand, they might not see their coveted shades in their cart on the direct-to-consumer (DTC) site.

    Even worse, they may find that their preferred pair is now sold out, even though it appeared they were in stock on Instagram, causing them to likely abandon the sale altogether.

    Unified Commerce Is More Customer-Centric

    Again, unified commerce is when brands or retailers seek to create a cohesive experience both from the perspective of the consumer and of the consumer on the back end: It’s more customer-centric.

    In addition to providing consistent product information, content, and experiences across the digital shelf, unified commerce goes further by providing consistent back-end information and capabilities, such as:

    • Consumer data;
    • Inventory distribution;
    • Order management; and
    • Merchandise planning.

    Unified ecommerce wouldn’t allow for the sunglasses example debacle that omnichannel commerce might.

    Because unified commerce encompasses one entirely interconnected platform, the shopper would have the same cart (and the same shades nearly in their possession) no matter where they choose to interact with the organization and ultimately complete their purchase.

    The organization can also have more flexibility and confidence to delight the consumer even further by offering a last-minute discount if they buy a second pair or a matching carrying case.

    Thanks to informed inventory management, they know they have the stock. And thanks to up-to-date sales information, they know they can afford to provide a discount.

    What if You Don’t Offer Omnichannel Commerce or Unified Commerce?

    If you choose to forego either omnichannel commerce or unified commerce capabilities, you’ll lose important operational insights, data to inform future growth, and, of course, customers.

    About 59% of U.S. consumers would choose to shop somewhere else if buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) wasn’t offered, along with 49% if curbside pickup wasn’t offered, and 41% if same-day delivery wasn’t offered, per a 2021 consumer survey from IDC.

    Additionally, higher prices have impacted how consumers shop worldwide. Per Salsify’s “2023 Shopper Research,” an interactive, country-by-country breakdown of its consumer research, shoppers in the U.S. (47%), France (48%), Great Britain (49%), Germany (49%), and Australia (52%) prioritize product quality and research more.

    That means if your presence on the digital shelf is few and far between (or you just look bad due to a lack of correct or updated product information), you might as well forget becoming a serious competitor. Consumers will soon forget you too.

    Advantages of Delivering Unified Commerce Customer Experiences

    Wincing at the thought of being forgotten (or forgetting yourself) but unsure of what you can do to set your organization up for success both on the front end and back end? Some advantages of delivering unified commerce customer experiences are just so.

    Unified Commerce Creates Front-End Cohesion

    Like omnichannel commerce, unified commerce helps create cohesion on the front end that modern consumers appreciate (nay, demand).

    Not only is product information and content looking their best at every touch point, but consumers can also rest assured that the specific products they want are actually in stock. 

    And, if a consumer’s journey is long, complicated, and drawn out (as many are), all of their data will be smartly applied at every touch point until they ultimately decide to purchase.

    Unified Commerce Promotes Back-End Harmony

    As discussed, unified commerce encompasses another layer of consistency beyond omnichannel commerce processes.

    A consumer’s unique preferences will be available across the organization’s digital shelf to better inform offers and personalization efforts.

    Friction will be reduced, as the organization can minimize stockouts and effectively manage inventory with cross-channel insights.

    Furthermore, an organization can effectively plan for the future with a more holistic view of what, where, and how consumers are being attracted and what sales are happening when, where, and how. 

    Streamline and Unify: Keep Up With Shoppers Worldwide

    Discerning shoppers will notice your two left feet — you need to keep up with their shifting demands on a global scale. Getting into the groove of what your shoppers are looking for will require some swift decision-making.

    You may not have to lean all the way into unified commerce or unified ecommerce immediately. But, if nothing else, omnichannel commerce is the basis for a captivating digital shelf performance. You don’t have to make all the right moves all the time, but with trial and error, you can coordinate a great strategy that turns heads.

    The Complete Guide to Omnichannel Strategy for Commerce

    Shopper demands are continually shifting — how are you keeping up? Learn more about how to build an effective strategy in this guide.


    Written by: Yvonne Bertovich

    Yvonne Bertovich (she/her) is an editor and writer at Salsify, reporting from Knoxville, Tennessee. With a longtime passion for research, she enjoys flexing her perspective on ecommerce, trends in consumer behavior, and health and wellness.

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