Unified Commerce: Key to Profitability and Sales Growth, Reveals Bain and Aptos Study

While consumers crave a more seamless shopping experience across multiple channels, new research from Bain and Aptos revealed that meeting that demand is a top priority for retailers and brands.

The research, released in a report titled “The State of Unified Commerce: A Bain and Aptos Study,” also showed that retailers and brands “that invest in the tech to deliver a seamless experience see significantly higher profitability and sales growth than their peers — but few companies have a clear roadmap.”

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Nikki Baird, vice president of strategy at Aptos, told WWD that the research, based on a survey of nearly 400 industry leaders, showed “a gap between the priority around unified commerce in general and the respondent’s confidence in their ability to execute on it.”

“Nearly 100 percent of respondents said unified commerce is really important to them, but when you start asking them if they have a strategy in place and how confident they are in achieving a strategy, then responses fall to 50 percent,” Baird said.

Other key findings of the report include a desire to integrate back-end and in-store technology. But those polled also acknowledged that their physical stores are not ready to do so. “Retailers are more likely to succeed when they secure alignment across the organization and use data analytics to understand customer preferences across physical and digital channels,” the report stated.

When asked if there was a reluctance to make investments or if retailers were already saddled with so-called “tech debt,” Baird told WWD, “It’s a little bit of both. About two-thirds of respondents said that they basically have to self-fund these investments. So, they’re not getting extra money actually to achieve [implementing unified commerce]. And I think given the level of uncertainty that we’ve been living through, especially over the last couple of years, self-funding anything is tightly managed.”

Regarding retailers making these investments, the report’s authors said they are investing in developing a deep understanding of their customers and shopping preferences. “They focus on the complete tech stack, from customer experience to data systems, connecting the customer’s profile, history, rewards and incentives across physical and digital channels to create a single view of the customer and ultimately activate a truly unified commerce experience,” the report stated. “This enables them to deliver a tailored experience online or in physical stores. Importantly, these leaders also work to align the entire organization, especially leaders in the business and technology functions, on the value of creating this seamless experience, and they foster cross-organizational efforts to make it happen.”

In a separate blog post from Baird and co-authored with Mike Hughes, vice president of customer experience at Aptos, the two noted that in-demand services such as buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), omnichannel returns, and ship from store are key today. “But simply offering them isn’t enough,” they said. “If a customer has to fill gaps — or worse, overcome any disruptions — in their experience, your efforts will fall flat. This risk is even higher for retailers who rely on many people or processes to keep these services afloat, such as department store chains.”

The Aptos executives said that with unified commerce, “you can’t make it difficult for a shopper to shop with you and expect to stay competitive. More than 70 percent of retail customers abandon carts, with excess costs and difficult checkout experiences as leading causes.

“The customer experience must be seamless. That can only be achieved through a unified commerce solution that puts the store at the heart of everything.”

Baird and Hughes said most sales still happen in stores. “And while online revenue contributions have grown, expectations for stores are as high as ever,” they said. “Stores are the home to the brand’s identity; a way to physically interact with the retailer’s products/services pre-purchase; an opportunity for in-person employee assistance; a place of community. Stores also must be more than an endpoint.”

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