“Retail technology is like an iceberg: Everyone pays attention to the portion that’s visible, but it’s what’s below the surface that’s mission critical. That thought appears foremost in the minds of CIOs as they plunge headlong into 2016 tech initiatives.”
— Susan Reda, STORES Magazine
If the latest innovations in omni-channel commerce, retail digitization, and big data analytics signify just the tip of the retail technology iceberg, then unified commerce systems represent the unseen bulk. As it stands, many back-office systems in retail are running on siloed, disjointed legacy programs that simply can’t adapt fast enough to support new technologies like mobile commerce, e-commerce, and the Internet of Things. But as the line between online selling and brick-and-mortar stores continues to disintegrate, retailers will need to rebuild their foundations if they want to keep up with—and get ahead of—consumer demand.
The cover story for this month’s issue of the NRF’s STORES Magazine explores unified commerce systems as the “meat and potatoes” of retail expansion. According to the article’s author Susan Reda, “too many [businesses] are lugging around a hodge-podge of old and new back-office systems that inhibit the merging of online and physical worlds.” (STORES 23)
Retailers simply aren’t flexible enough to adapt to shopper demands without an overarching, unified commerce platform that can implement the latest in big data analytics technology much more efficiently—and much more comprehensively. Unified commerce also allows retailers “to connect e-commerce, point of sale, order management, fulfillment and inventory management, and operate those areas of business as a single entity.”(25)
For this reason, Greg Buzek, founder and president of IHL Group, believes that 86 percent of software spending this year will be in the six core pillars of unified commerce: business intelligence and analytics, e-commerce, merchandising, supply chain, sales and marketing, and store systems (23). On top of that, a recent survey from Boston Retail Partners said that 85 percent of retailers listed unified commerce is their top priority (24).
This year’s focus on overhauling core systems leads back to one key idea: if retailers want to prepare for the future, they need to make sure their technological infrastructures are no longer siloed, disjointed relics of the past. Whether or not this concept draws as much buzz as some of the more novel retail technologies being introduced to the market, unified commerce platforms are an absolute necessity for retailers who want to make better business decisions, streamline their supply chains, and attract engaged, loyal shoppers.
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