Creating a Unified Retail Experience Across Channels

Kaja Grzybowska

Creating a Unified Retail Experience Across Channels

The "brick & mortar" stores suffered a severe blow from the pandemic, while eCommerce saw a significant surge. However, the situation gets back to normal, and the customers' desire for a truly unified shopping experience returned with even greater force. The problem is, amidst the increasingly complex digital landscape, businesses face the real challenge of grasping and reaching customers. How can they do that effectively?

To answer shortly: it depends. To be more specific: engaging users effectively now mostly depends on user experience (UX) as gone are the days when customers were driven solely by price. The user experience area is where the actual race fueled by substantial investments in research, technology, and AI happens. Sure, there's no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution that automatically fulfills customers' needs. It is more "hide & seek" play or "trial & error" methods, but still the UX is the key, and when there is a key, finding the right door seems just a matter of time. 

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The challenge, however, intensifies when selling complex products like furniture. Let's consider the furniture sector, which managed to dodge a bullet during the pandemic as customers massively rearranged their home offices. This industry serves as an excellent example of the difficulty and advantages of blurring the line between offline and online worlds to attract customers, and the benefits of increasing customer experience for the sake of increasing sales. 

And it is not easy with furniture's diverse styles, sizes, materials, and customization options. To ensure easy navigation through the offerings, this in-depth information should be connected through simple web design. However, even these may not be enough, since touch and feel cannot be translated into binary code. Furniture retailers must offer customers the possibility of seeing the products in person, and create a seamless customer journey where every interaction influences the overall shopping experience. 

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel

Let's stop for a moment here, as many of you may have noticed that the above paragraph is more about the good old "omnichannel." That's right! It is about omnichannel, where creating a "seamless customer journey" is at the center of interest, as opposed to simply multiplying sales channels—which characterizes "multichannel".



The customer/user is at the center of attention

Product is at the center of attention

Data is captured according to channels but used to view customers' preferences

Data is gathered in siloes, separately forchannel

Every touchpoint makes a change in order to create a personalized buying experience

There are many parallel ways to buy a product but there is no buying journey

The main difference between omnichannel and multichannel strategies lies in the level of integration and customer-centric approach. While multichannel strategies involve operating through multiple channels independently, omnichannel strategies focus on providing a unified and seamless customer experience across all channels.

Barriers to Omnichannel Success

By prioritizing customer needs, omnichannel leads to increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and ultimately, business success, but incorporating it full steam ahead can be hard because of: 

Siloed systems and data

Without proper data synchronization, businesses may struggle to provide accurate and up-to-date information to customers across different channels, resulting in confusion, frustration, and often breaking their customer journey. Eliminating gaps in data flows enables companies to reduce inconsistencies and discrepancies in customer information, product details, and inventory levels. 

Lack of integration between online and offline

When these two worlds are considered separately, customer deals with two separate brand, or at least they perceive it like that as their experience varies significantly between the online and offline channels. For example, customers may find a different product assortment, pricing, or promotional offers between the online store and physical locations, which can erode trust in the brand.

To make things worse, overcoming these challenges is not enough to achieve success. Now, retailers have to go beyond the typical omnichannel strategy perceived mainly as connecting on- and offline. They need to tap into new value pools, such as third-party marketplaces and retail media networks.

According to McKinsey's study, these “beyond retail” opportunities—including adjacent services, customer data monetization, and new tech assets—currently account for less than 10 percent of retailer profits but could represent up to 40 percent by 2027.

Omnichannel vs. Unified Commerce 

But to get back to the business: if we've already got omnichannel covered, what exactly does its axis called "unified commerce" lay? How are these two terms related? 

The short answer is: close. Unified commerce may be seen as the more tech-oriented term, pointing out the need for employing one single eCommerce backend system connected to multiple customer-facing channels and 3rd party tools such as payment systems, headless CMS, loyalty programs, search engines, and so on. This tech stack—the backend connected typically via API with frontend and 3rd party tools—is the tech foundation for building an omnichannel shopping experience. 

Unified commerce, with a modern and often modular eCommerce platform in the center, provides retailers with a full overview of their data flowing from across all touchpoints ensuring no meaningful insights will slip their attention. 

Benefits of Unified Commerce Experience

Frictionless customer experiences

Unified commerce delivers seamless customer experiences that transcend individual channels, enabling the building of a consistent brand identity. Wherever customers choose to shop, the unified commerce approach allows seamless integration of these channels on the backend, enabling retailers to gain a full view of their behaviors and deliver a consistent shopping experience across all touchpoints.

Improved data flow

This consolidation of data leads to reduced errors, heightened visibility, and increased data accuracy. Empowered with this comprehensive view, employees can better forecast inventory levels, optimize sales, identify opportunities for promotional campaigns, track key performance indicators (KPIs), and evaluate the effectiveness of their decisions.

Data-driven decision-making

Armed with this information, businesses can identify new revenue streams, pinpoint potential growth opportunities, and cultivate unparalleled customer loyalty by offering personalized experiences.

Technological flexibility

With a modern eCommerce platform, retailers can flexibly scale and extend their tech stack by adding (and removing if needed) 3rd party tools depending on their business needs. They are not stuck with a tech setup composed solely by the tech vendors.

Technology Enablers of Unified Commerce

Unified commerce (instead of an old-fashioned monolith or all-in-one approach where all modules are tightly connected with each other) eases the creation of an omnichannel shopping experience, bringing numerous business benefits. However, implementing this approach can be difficult and demands some level of digital maturity, cooperation across business and tech, and a well-built strategy to assemble the right tech stack. That is basically the main idea behind the MACH architecture.

What is MACH? To tackle the above challenges and educate enterprises on best-of-breed technologies, several tech vendors formed an alliance called MACH. This acronym stands for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless, and it was created to enable retailers to fully understand the pros and cons of the approach that has composability at its core. 


Microservices are the technical term that refers to separated applications (microservices) within the system that are independently developed, deployed, and managed. In practice, it means that each individual microservice is responsible for performing a specific function, such as product search, reviews, checkout, wish lists, etc. The separation enhances development processes because when one element fails, it is easy to detect and fix the errors.


All microservices within a system communicate with each other via an Application Programming Interface (API) responsible for sending and receiving requests for only necessary data. The data is collected at backend microservices, sent to the frontend layer, and transformed into a relevant outcome. The API handles the logic of the whole system, masking its inner complexity.

In practice, this means that developers don't have to grasp the entire business logic of the whole system, including both backend and frontend, to, for example, replace or fix one single element of it.

Cloud-native SaaS

Cloud-native SaaS means that development and delivery happen in a scalable cloud environment, not on-premise. The cloud makes system scaling, updating, and maintenance easier.


Headless architecture refers to decoupling the frontend and backend layers of the system, providing the ability to create personalized UX experiences. This architecture allows frontend and backend developers to work at a different pace, implementing small UX-oriented improvements at quick iterations without jeopardizing the integrity of the backend system.

Putting It All Together — Steps of Implementing Unified Commerce

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say MACH architecture with its composability is the tech foundation for unified commerce, but it would be a simplification to just close the issue with this statement. Unified commerce involves at least several elements that can be considered crucial in building consistent online and offline channels, streamlining operations, and ultimately, elevating the customer experience to new heights.

Implementing MACH architecture is the first step, which should be followed by integrating Point of Sale (POS) systems to act as a bridge between brick-and-mortar stores and a central database, enabling real-time data synchronization. This integration empowers retailers to access comprehensive information about inventory levels, sales data, and customer interactions across all store locations. With a unified POS system, businesses can effortlessly implement cross-channel features such as "buy online, pick up in-store" (BOPIS) and offer consistent pricing and promotions across all touchpoints.

The next step, especially when dealing with a broad product catalog, is employing inventory management solutions to gain real-time visibility into inventory levels and movements across all sales channels. With an integrated inventory management system, retailers can efficiently manage their stock, fulfill orders from any channel, and maintain a consistent shopping experience across all touchpoints.

However, all of the above are backend-related issues, and to ensure the information reaches the clients, dedicated solutions such as customer data platforms (CDP) and CRM systems must be harnessed as well.

CDPs aggregate, unify, and organize customer data from various sources, creating a comprehensive and 360-degree view of each customer, which is the basis for the omnichannel shopping experience. Armed with this valuable information, businesses can deliver highly personalized marketing campaigns, tailor product recommendations, and engage customers in a relevant and timely manner. With Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, personalization can be taken to the next level, as they allow businesses to engage with customers through their preferred channels, such as email, SMS, social media, or in-store interactions, ensuring that communication is consistent and personalized, fostering trust, and driving loyalty.

Is there something else we can think of to incorporate unified commerce into our business practice? Well, there is a thing that is gaining popularity in the Western world, and it is live shopping.

Live shopping is a marketing strategy based on live streaming, where a host presents products and viewers can purchase those products in real time. Life streamings can happen on retailers' websites or social media channels, but also on influencers' spaces, one way or another, it gives brands the chance to interact and entertain the audience in real-time.

This trend, massively popular in China, a few years ago was pushed by every social media platform, including Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok in Europe. Even though it wasn't a smash, it sparked some engagement, especially among younger audiences. 

digital commerce purchase

Lifeshopping, next to voice commerce or social commerce, may be considered just a "little shiny thing", and we will not lie that it is a must in every case. Yet, in the case of brands targeting Gen Z, selling lifestyle products, or craving their niche in specific communities, it may be extremely beneficial. 

Unified Commerce Examples

What is the social proof of embracing that approach? Besides huge Ikea's investment in omnichannel strategy, multiple retailers have already switched their mindsets and turned towards unified commerce to keep up with the market and deliver a superb, tailor-made customer experience to drive sales. 


Walmart incorporates elements of unified commerce to provide a seamless and integrated shopping experience to customers. By harnessing its vast network of physical stores and eCommerce platforms, Walmart has made it easy for customers to access products and services through any channel, while also providing features such as click-and-collect and same-day delivery.


Ikea will build new shops and extend its fulfillment network to give better delivery alternatives and provide a product range that matches the demands of everyday living in diverse regions across the country as part of the investment.


Nike has implemented a unified commerce approach, enabling customers to seamlessly shop across channels, social media included, and access personalized offers and recommendations based on their preferences and purchase history. Nike has also invested in advanced analytics tools and technologies to gain deeper insights into customer behavior and preferences.

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

eCommerce in most modern versions may be overwhelming with all these terms/buzzwords, whose general meanings often overlap, and the differences are noticeable only for deep-divers. A decade ago, when we had a monolithic Magento that ruled the eCommerce world, it was simple.

Retailers didn't need to constantly make difficult choices about whether one solution would be better than another because they had an "all-in-one" solution. With time, this very convenient approach, however, turned out to be a roadblock. Retailers couldn't scale it, extend it, and enhance the monolithic system as fast as the customers demanded it.

All the nuances standing behind the term "unified commerce" were made and designed to enable retailers to keep up with the clients, and yes, the omnichannel "reason to be" is pretty much the same, but where omnichannel tends to focus on marketing expansion and frontend alignment at most, unified commerce goes beyond, covering backend systems, 3rd party tools, and customer-facing channels.

But yes, at the end of the day, it is about customer experience as CX drives sales. Unified commerce made it better.

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Kaja Grzybowska avatar
Kaja Grzybowska