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Making Magic with Unified Commerce


What is unified commerce? I am asked this question often as I work with clients to transform their buying journeys. Unified commerce is an initiative to create a concise, coordinated way to transact with customers – to engage, sell, deliver, and provide service. It is the unification of business units, technologies, and processes behind the customer journey that, ultimately, influence every purchase. I have a saying, ‘Luck is all of life’s experiences coming together to influence one event.’ In the same way that we create “luck” in our lives, we create retail magic when we focus on the customer and the purchase journey. But it’s not magic. It’s common sense and adopting a customer-focused point of view.

Commerce is splintered today in most retail organizations. Generally, it’s divided into what we believe are ‘logical’ units. This may be based on customer type or where they buy from us. Think for a moment, though, about the names we assign these customer locations. We call them ‘channels.’ And, exactly when was the last time you heard a consumer say, ‘I think I will go to the in-store channel today to buy shoes.’ Never.

In the same way that we create “luck” in our lives, we create retail magic when we focus on the customer and the purchase journey. But it’s not magic. It’s common sense and adopting a customer-focused point of view

There is an obvious reality we overlook in our efforts to deliver products to market. Our customers don’t know what a channel is when they interact with us. They have a need and they are looking to fulfill it – whether it’s shoes, shampoo, or a high-fashion handbag. So, if customers don’t see channels, we should align our perceptions with theirs. They see one company. We behave as one company. They want a predictable and consistent experience with us wherever they are in their journey. We deliver. And, that’s Unified Commerce.

A Line in the Sand

Why do channels exist? History is one reason. Initially, ecommerce was uncharted territory, requiring special skills, technology, and processes. This changed everything. We were no longer sure if an online customer was an in-store customer because the worldwide web was, well, just that – global. Customers could be anywhere and may never visit a store, so we made a leap in logic that online and in-store were two separate experiences and unique channels.

So ecommerce grew up in a broken home where the parents didn’t talk and were often combative and suspicious of each other – also known as ‘channel conflict.’ I work with clients that are still divided along these battle lines – online and in-store – and there is constant friction over revenue, attribution, operating budget, and other corporate resources.

A Journey Worth Taking

I’ll be the first to admit that the meaning of many terms in commerce today isn’t obvious. But there’s one phrase you need to know: Customer journey. The customer journey represents the starting point of your customer’s buying voyage and extends to the point where they are enjoying the product or service they purchased from you. Although it can start in many places, most brands become aware of a customer at the point where a purchase decision is made – often too late.

In reality, the journey may start much earlier – in what Google describes as a “micro-moment.” This is an intent-rich moment when a consumer turns to a device to act on a need. The most important parts of this description are the words ‘intent’ and ‘need.’ Those two words are the exact intersection required for purchase. The moment that a consumer intends to act on a need is a buying moment and begins their journey. This moment can happen in any of your business channels individually. However, it is most often captured in cross-channel events as a consumer further determines if your product meets their needs and if they will buy from you.

OK, so what does unified commerce have to do with the customer’s journey and your bottom line?

Unified commerce allows you to help your customers along their journey – from the moments of need to fulfillment and enjoyment. It removes friction and allows customer to enjoy a relationship with your brand. And, if you do it well, a lasting relationship is forged because unified commerce doesn’t end with a single transaction or purchase. A sustained relationship is created.

We all know that acquiring a new customer is expensive and difficult. The customer journey can cut across many touch points each carrying costs. We also know that losing a customer saps that investment and, in this socially connected world, can lead to others following suit. This reveals another key aspect of unified commerce. Each contact with a customer is equally important, including after-purchase interactions like fulfillment and customer care. Often what we characterize as “caring” for customers can be an experience of abject disappointment. These moments can illustrate exactly how siloed our companies are, and they send a message loud and clear: We are incapable of providing a consistent experience or recognizing a customer from one channel to the next.

Ironically, the moment we need to please the customer most is when we fail. Company factions or fiefdoms become clear when a customer interacts with cross-channel support and finds that one side of the business has no way of fulfilling their needs. Case in point: When a customer purchases a blue sweater online and can’t exchange it for a red one in-store, they are stranded. Furthermore, when a customer wants to reach out for help through a call center or in store, they expect to be met with the same level of enthusiasm and understanding as when the company was happy to take their money. In many cases, the experience is inconsistent and disappointing.

How does unified commerce help solve these problems? It’s hard work, but the solution is simple. Unify your business and create consistent, frictionless experiences for your customers.

  • Use data to track customers throughout their journey. Align your resources toward the end of that journey.
  • Provide consistent levels of care.
  • Enable flexibility.

This is unified commerce. But, getting there requires a fair amount of introspection – and it’s where LiveArea’s Unified Commerce Audit can help. We carefully analyze your enterprise and its ability to serve the customer. We bring a unified focus to the way you do business and leverage your key strengths across the enterprise. This audit covers six core areas over a spectrum of 38 key topics and more than 1,000 questions to reveal where you are in relationship to industry best practices.

Remember, if you don’t know your customer’s journey you don’t know the customer. If you can’t identify friction points, you can’t remove them. If you can’t determine and improve the customer’s propensity to buy, then you may not get the sale.

To learn more about our Unified Commerce Audit, send me a note at