Many retailers are now focused on implementing the technologies required for true 'unified commerce', and three quarters plan to use technologies to identify their customers when they enter physical stores within five years, according to the first annual CRM/Unified Commerce Benchmark Survey published by Boston Retail Partners. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

Unified commerce is the evolution of both multi-channel and omni-channel retailing that provides a seamless experience in the store, on the Web or anywhere customers choose to shop. The report found that the key Unified Commerce initiatives, such as enhancing customer engagement, collecting and analysing customer behaviour, and personalising the experience, are currently the top priorities for retailers.

Among the survey's key findings:

  • 95% of the respondents indicated customer experience/ customer engagement is one of their top three current initiatives;
  • 3% have the ability to identify the customer when she walks in the store, and another 72% plan to implement this within five years;
  • 16% currently have real-time retail from POS (which offers the "Amazon" experience in the store) and another 63% plan to implement within five years;
  • 28% currently use mobile marketing and another;
  • 62% plan to implement this within five years (and 56% plan to implement mobile marketing within two years);
  • 81% have implemented some type of customer database, typically as part of a CRM or loyalty platform;
  • 22% of retailers have implemented real-time analytics and 61% plan to implement it within two years.

"It was impressive to learn how many retailers are now focused on implementing the technologies to deliver Unified Commerce, but there is still a lot of work to be done to deliver these capabilities," said Boston Retail Partners' principal, Walter Deacon. "Delivering unified commerce requires seamless execution of the right strategy, technology, and business processes."

The looming challenge is that while marketing has become the centre of the unified commerce organisation, it is often still on its own with regards to developing marketing technology strategies and evaluating and selecting technology.

With the importance of multiple key marketing initiatives to achieve a seamless shopping experience, retailers need to examine ways to improve the unification of Marketing and IT to successfully implement these projects. Many larger retailers have consequently developed a role in the organisation that helps bridge this gap: a senior-level role responsible for working with IT to develop a marketing technology strategy and evaluate and implement the technology.

"To deliver the seamless experience, retailers need to gather, analyse and disseminate customer, product, pricing and inventory data in real-time," concluded Boston Retail Partners' principal, Ken Morris. "Leveraging technology, unified commerce provides the platform and real-time retail is key to delivering the experience. Retailers that successfully deliver this will develop and adopt a unified approach for strategic customer initiatives, technology, business processes and execution."