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Unified Commerce: What's in Store for the Next Generation of Retail

A unified commerce platform can sync your storefronts.

Retailer tokyobike had a problem most businesses dream of: people really wanted its products. The catch? It had stores in New York and Tokyo, but its customers were all around the globe.

People would test ride a bike at one of its retail locations and then fly home with a business card, bike specifications, and a credit card authorization form to fill out. Unsurprisingly, many customers found it difficult to follow through with their purchase.

An $800 bike isn’t an impulse buy for most people, and the distance between tokyobike's brick-and-mortar stores and its customers’ locations made the sales loop hard to close. Clearly, its system wasn’t cutting it.

Fast-forward six months, and tokyobike’s year-over-year sales have increased by 100%. The key to its success? Selling online with a unified commerce platform.

What is unified commerce?

Unified commerce is a business strategy of integrating all the data you’ve collected about prospects, customers, and products into a single platform. From customer relationship management to point of sale (POS) to order fulfillment and inventory management, unified commerce ensures better, more consistent customer experiences throughout the ecommerce sales cycle.

Unified commerce vs. omnichannel commerce

Although they share the goal of fostering a better, more consistent customer experience across all of your customer touchpoints, omnichannel services and unified commerce solutions are slightly different.

Omnichannel (or omni-channel) commerce focuses on creating consistency on the front end of your business—what customers see. Whether a customer is shopping via mobile on Instagram, via laptop on your ecommerce website, or in person at your brick-and-mortar store, omnichannel commerce ensures that he or she encounters the same messaging, branding, and purchase process.

Unified commerce solutions, meanwhile, take this strategy a step further by unifying the back end systems of your business, bringing all of your data into a single centralized platform. This addresses one of the challenges of omnichannel commerce—namely, reconciling incomplete, conflicting, or duplicated customer data across multiple systems.

How tokyobike uses unified commerce

After tokyobike launched its online store using Shopify, it moved to a unified commerce platform by switching its point-of-sale (POS) system to Shopify POS. As a result, tokyobike was able to offer flexible shopping options for customers while managing all of its stores using a single back end. Thus, its online store and retail spaces are effectively synced.

Now, when shoppers come in for a test-ride and leave without buying, there are no cards or forms to fill out: their shopping cart is automatically waiting in their email inbox when they return home. This allows customers who start their journey in-store to easily complete it online when they’re ready, reducing the risk of tokyobike losing the sale.

Where once tokyobike was limited to its storefronts in New York and Tokyo, Shopify’s unified platform allowed it to go global.

The benefits of unified commerce

With a single view of inventory, orders, and customer data, retailers using a unified commerce platform can keep track of what's happening across their entire business in real time, allowing them to make informed business decisions that drive revenue. Customers reap the benefits of always-up-to-date product inventories and the flexibility to browse, pay, and fulfill orders however they want.

Create a flexible buying journey

With a single platform, your business can offer more purchasing and financing options to customers at checkout. Shoppers can add a product to their carts online, enter a promo code, and then opt for in-store pickup if they prefer. Or, like tokyobike, you can email customers their carts after an in-store visit so they can complete their purchases from the comfort of their home.

You can even integrate shipping into your POS solution. Seventy-three percent of customers want order tracking across different touchpoints. With Shopify POS and other unified commerce platforms, you can give customers a tracking number whether they complete an order in-store or online. In short, order management becomes simpler—from purchasing products to order fulfillment to tracking.

Accurately track customer interactions with your brand

In the bygone days of pre-internet shopping, tracking customer behavior was limited to keeping tabs on who came into your store and what they purchased. Today, the shopping journey is more complex, with customers using an increasing number of channels before they complete a purchase. With unified commerce, you can track a customer across every touchpoint, with every interaction representing an opportunity to re-engage and nurture.

For example, someone can start their journey by clicking an ad on Facebook. From there, they can create an account with your store, shop around, add an item to their cart, and leave. On a unified commerce platform, you can use all of the data about these interactions to email them about the item in their cart, including information about your local stores as well. The customer then has the option to purchase via their cart or visit your retail location.


With unified commerce, all customer engagement is tracked by the same system, so you won’t lose valuable insights into a customer’s actions as they switch between channels. This information can be used to improve your ad targeting on social media and across sites your audience visits.

You’ll be able to deliver a degree of personalization that will make your customers feel noticed and appreciated by your business. This personalization also extends into how their shopping experience is delivered.

Tailor shopping experiences for customers

Customers expect personalization today. With a single view of purchase history, retailers can deliver on these consumer expectations by tailoring their shopping experience and marketing communications.

Using analytics to understand customer behavior across sales channels, you can more accurately predict future shopping behavior, recommending the right product to the right customer at the right time. This also helps for building robust loyalty programs, as you’ll know what appeals most to your customers based on their shopping habits.

Provide real-time product updates

Giving customers visibility into your products counts for a lot. Ninety-four percent of consumers say they’ll stay loyal to brands that offer complete transparency. One way to be more transparent? Maintain accurate inventory numbers. Doing so offers a number of advantages:

  • Reliable stock information. As a customer, it’s frustrating to look in-store for an item you saw online, then find it isn’t there. Unexpected stockouts can hurt your reputation and lose you customers for good. When you have your inventory information shared across every channel, customers (and your staff) have full visibility into whether or not a product is in stock. In fact, 64% of consumers choose a store based on the availability of clear, discernible product information.
  • Pricing is always accurate. The moment you have multiple storefronts, you introduce the risk of having a pricing disparity between channels or locations. But with your sales channels working in sync, you can easily adjust prices and ensure that they’re accurate and consistent across the board.
  • Ability to order and move inventory based on demand. Customers can’t buy what isn’t there. Accurate information about inventory helps you just as much as it helps your customer, allowing you to see what you need to order more of before you run out. With retailers missing out on nearly $1 trillion in sales due to stock issues, having a complete look into inventory availability is essential.

Offer convenient exchanges and returns

With your online store and retail locations working in tandem, you can ensure your customers have a positive post-purchase experience, too.

A disconnected system leads to messy inventory and accounting, and a painful customer experience.

One major perk that’s easy to implement with Shopify POS and other unified platforms is the flexibility to accept returns in any store location, regardless of where the products were originally purchased. According to Narvar’s 2018 Consumer Returns Report, 89% of repeat customers who have a good return experience are likely to buy again, so offering a convenient return experience can potentially improve your retention rate and increase revenue.

More efficient staff management

Lastly, a unified platform makes it easier to onboard and train new staff. Having to learn numerous systems often means having to memorize several logins, interfaces, and functions. With one platform organizing everything, employees can intuitively learn and use the technology that powers your sales experience. This is especially important for businesses with high employee turnover.

You’ll also reduce the risk of user error, as employees have less data entry to manage on account of the automated inventory updates and customer information tracking.

With many platforms, it’s also possible to assign your employees a PIN or login. This allows you to monitor their sales and offer additional training to anyone who’s struggling.

Unified commerce is the future of retail

At its core, a unified commerce approach is about creating harmony between important customer touchpoints by syncing your sales channels and consolidating your back-end operations so that every part of your customer experience feels like a direct extension of your brand. 

When you’re able to sell to everyone with one platform, the lines between offline and online become blurred—purchases and fulfillment feel fluid to customers, and you and your staff aren’t left wrangling siloed data or dozens of disparate tools to run your business. Not only will customers be grateful for this seamless experience, they’ll come to expect it. One example: today roughly 60% of shopping experiences begin and end on separate devices.

The time to consider one platform for all of your sales channels is now. A unified commerce strategy helped tokyobike pedal its business to new heights, and it can help you, too.

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Illustrations by Rose Wong

Unified commerce FAQ

What is the difference between omnichannel and unified commerce?

An omnichannel strategy focuses on optimizing what a customer sees to deliver a consistent experience across all of your sales channels, while a unified commerce strategy focuses on centralizing all of your valuable data under a single platform.

Why is unified commerce important?

Unified commerce helps businesses leverage their data at every stage in the buyer’s journey, minimizing lost opportunities and delivering a better customer experience in the process.

What are examples of unified commerce?

Unified commerce allows customers to apply promotions and items to their cart on a retailer’s website, then finish the transaction via a mobile app using the same cart and promotions.