A guide to unified commerce

  1. Introduktion
  2. What is unified commerce?
  3. Omnichannel vs. unified commerce
  4. What are the benefits of unified commerce?
  5. Who should implement a unified commerce strategy?
  6. How to implement unified commerce
    1. 1. Conduct an assessment
    2. 2. Choose a payments infrastructure approach
    3. 3. Integrate systems
    4. 4. Implement cross-channel capabilities
    5. 5. Personalize the shopping experience
    6. 6. Monitor and adapt
  7. How is Stripe’s unified commerce solution unique?
    1. What products make up Stripe’s unified commerce solution?
    2. What makes Stripe’s unified commerce solution so powerful?
  8. Real-world examples
    1. Castlery
    2. Traxero

For most businesses, it’s no longer enough to focus efforts exclusively on in-person or online payments. A recent study found that 73% of customers prefer to use multiple channels when shopping, prompting retailers to build new commerce experiences. Transactions are increasingly taking place across a wider range of channels, from web to email to SMS, and are more dynamic and less one-dimensional than they once were. For example, you could receive a payment link for your recent landscaping job via SMS.

With an increasing number of businesses transitioning to a unified commerce approach, retailers that don’t employ one could stand to lose as much as 10% to 30% of their sales.

At the same time that payments are becoming more complex due to globalization, compliance and regulatory updates, and new payment methods, customer demand is growing for seamless, personalized, and situationally relevant experiences. Today’s customers interact with businesses across multiple channels as they learn about products, place orders, pick up and return merchandise, and interact with customer service. Customers want to engage in each of these activities in whichever channel suits their needs best, and they expect businesses to know the actions they’ve already taken. Unified commerce makes it possible for customers to move between channels and for businesses to have a complete view of all this activity.

This guide is for businesses of all sizes, and it explains what you need to know about unified commerce and its benefits. Whether you’re an independent retailer, an ecommerce business, or a platform powering other businesses, you’ll learn what it takes to move away from a siloed commerce approach and toward a unified commerce strategy with Stripe.

What’s in this guide?

  • What is unified commerce?
  • Omnichannel vs. unifed commerce
  • What are the benefits of unified commerce?
  • Who should implement a unified commerce strategy?
  • How can you implement unified commerce?
  • How is Stripe’s unified commerce solution unique?
  • Real-world examples

Looking to personalize and improve your customer service? Read our guide on seamless service.

What is unified commerce?

Unified commerce is a business strategy that integrates all sales channels, data, and back-end systems—such as inventory management and CRM applications—into a single, seamless platform. The aim of unified commerce is to provide customers with a fully integrated and personalized shopping experience across all channels, including brick-and-mortar stores, ecommerce websites, mobile apps, social media, and more.

By integrating all sales channels, processes, and data into a single platform, retailers can gain a holistic view of customer behavior and preferences and use that information to provide more targeted and personalized marketing and sales strategies. Having a consolidated view of the back end—such as inventory, order fulfillment, and sales performance—empowers retailers to optimize operations.

Implementing unified commerce isn’t like making a small tweak to your payments strategy—it’s an entire rethinking of how your most important architecture, processes, and operations function together.

Omnichannel vs. unified commerce

Unified commerce is a modern answer to the traditional omnichannel strategy, with distinct differences that make it much more beneficial. Unified commerce and omnichannel strategies both aim to serve customers across multiple channels, but they approach this goal in slightly different ways. Whereas an omnichannel approach primarily is optimized to drive short-term conversion by creating consistent experiences across siloed channels, unified commerce aims to increase customer lifetime value (LTV) by consolidating systems and data into a single platform, providing a continuous and integrated experience as customers transact and engage across multiple channels.

Here’s more detail about how the differences play out:

  • Unified commerce is a more holistic approach that integrates all sales channels, processes, and data. This means that customers can make purchases, track order history, and access customer support across all channels with a single account and a continuous, uninterrupted experience.

  • An omnichannel strategy focuses on providing customers with multiple channels to make purchases and interact with a business, but these channels may not be fully integrated. An omnichannel strategy typically depends on multiple technology platforms that are integrated to varying degrees. For example, a business may have ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores, but customers may not be able to do things like:

    • Access purchase history or customer support across all channels with a single account. For example, a customer’s in-app and online purchase history may only be viewed in those respective channels, while their in-store transaction history wouldn’t be available online or in-app.
    • Engage across multiple channels throughout the buying journey. For example, a customer might not be able to return online purchases in-store or ask a store associate to ship an out-of-stock item to their home address.
    • Accrue rewards points across all channels. For example, loyalty points may only be awarded for online or in-app purchases, meaning in-store purchases are not connected to a customer’s loyalty account and do not accrue points.
  • Unified commerce and omnichannel ecosystems also handle customer and sales data differently. Because of the centralization of data from all channels, unified commerce provides a more comprehensive view of customer behavior and preferences, along with sales trends and real-time inventory visibility on all channels—all stored within a single database. An omnichannel strategy may involve the use of multiple platforms and systems that aren’t entirely integrated, which can result in data being stored in separate databases. This not only requires a lot more reconciliation—which drains time and resources—but can make it more difficult to track and analyze customer behavior and sales performance across all channels.

Let’s look at an example of what all of this looks like in action. Here’s how a customer might experience the benefits of unified commerce at a coffee shop:

  • When the customer enters the shop and asks for recommendations, the barista can quickly access their customer profile—including past orders and preferences—by searching for their phone number in their system. This extra touch of personalization can make the customer feel valued and recognized. To build on this experience, if the customer is enjoying the coffee they ordered in the cafe, the barista can help them start a monthly subscription to that particular coffee blend, right there in the store, eliminating the need for the customer to search for and purchase it online later. The customer doesn’t even need to provide the barista with their address—it’s already on file.

  • On the back end, all of the customer’s purchasing history—whether subscription or one-time, in-store or online, as well as loyalty points for every purchase—is gathered into a unified customer profile, which will make it easier for the business to generate sales insights and to more effectively cross-sell and upsell this customer (and customers who resemble their profile).

  • Store associates are also able to provide better customer service. For example, if a delivery doesn’t arrive as scheduled, the customer can call in, and the store associate can recognize their phone number and quickly pull up the order details to look into the issue.

What are the benefits of unified commerce?

Overall, the goal of unified commerce is to create a more connected, customer-centric, and efficient retail experience that meets the expectations of today’s customers. Here’s a rundown of the advantages to choosing unified commerce over traditional omnichannel models:

  • Better customer experience
    Unified commerce lets businesses remove friction and create a more tailored shopping experience on every channel for customers, making it easier and faster for customers to purchase products and services. This can result in higher conversion rates, sales, and customer LTV, and encourage greater brand loyalty and advocacy.

  • Better business insights
    Real-time visibility into inventory levels, sales data, and customer behavior across all channels is an improvement over more fractured traditional commerce models. All key data points sit in context alongside each other, helping businesses make better-informed decisions about inventory management, marketing, and sales strategies, which can lead to increased sales and profitability.

  • Improved operational efficiency
    By consolidating views and data, businesses can eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies in their operations and reduce errors and delays, which helps save time and money. For example, without a unified commerce strategy, businesses have to manage separate inventory levels, pricing, and promotions for each sales channel independently. That can lead to duplicative efforts, errors, and discrepancies. By implementing a unified commerce platform, businesses can manage their inventory, pricing, and promotions centrally, with updates automatically reflected across all channels. Externally, businesses are able to provide better, faster service as a result of the centralization of online and in-person sales, refunds, transaction history, order management, inventory, and fulfillment.

Who should implement a unified commerce strategy?

No matter what markets you operate in or which sales channels are currently the most valuable for your business, there’s a good chance that unified commerce can improve your customer experience and streamline your operations, helping you to drive more revenue and lower your costs.

Businesses that derive the most value from unified commerce are typically looking to:

  • Increase agility and responsiveness to shifting customer expectations
  • Revamp inefficient or outdated operational architecture in order to adopt a future-proof and simplified approach to shaping their business
  • Clarify sales and customer data through customized and comprehensive reporting
  • Save money and time on developer and engineering resources
  • Achieve or amplify competitive differentiation

How to implement unified commerce

Implementing a unified commerce approach requires careful planning and coordination across different departments and systems within a business, even before you get down to actually integrating new products and systems. The exact playbook for shifting to unified commerce will vary depending on whether you build solutions in-house or work with a third-party provider like Stripe. Generally speaking, here are some steps a business often takes when implementing a unified commerce approach:

1. Conduct an assessment

The first step is to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the current sales channels, systems, and processes. This will help identify areas that need to be integrated, updated, or replaced.

2. Choose a payments infrastructure approach

Businesses will need to choose a strategy and infrastructure that allows them to integrate all sales channels, processes, and data into a single system. This could involve building an in-house solution or choosing a platform like Stripe that allows users to unify their online and in-person payments with a single processor and a single set of APIs.

3. Integrate systems

Once a platform has been selected, businesses will need to integrate their existing payments-adjacent systems with the new platform. This could involve integrating POS systems, inventory management systems, and loyalty and CRM systems.

4. Implement cross-channel capabilities

Once systems are integrated, businesses can start building for use cases across all channels, enabling customers to do things like buy online and pick up or return in-store. This will require updating processes and training employees to support these new capabilities.

5. Personalize the shopping experience

Businesses can use data analytics to track customer behavior and preferences across all channels and use this information to personalize the shopping experience. This includes offering targeted promotions, product recommendations, and customized content. It’s worth noting that data-driven personalizations should be executed in accordance with local regulations, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

6. Monitor and adapt

Once a unified commerce approach is implemented, it’s important to monitor performance and adapt as needed. This could involve making changes to processes, updating technology, or responding to changes in customer behavior and preferences. How exactly you tackle this aspect of managing your system will vary depending on what platform or solutions you’re using. For example, Stripe’s unified commerce solution is rooted in products like Stripe Billing and Terminal that are continuously being improved.

How is Stripe’s unified commerce solution unique?

Through a single set of integrations, Stripe provides the payments infrastructure and data pipeline to build better customer experiences that meet customers where they are in their buying journey and how they prefer to transact—whether that’s a specific payment type or channel.

What products make up Stripe’s unified commerce solution?

Stripe’s unified commerce solution consists of a suite of products, including:

  • Payments for online or digital payment processing
  • Terminal for in-person transactions
  • Connect for managing payments and payouts for marketplaces and platforms
  • Billing and Invoicing for subscription and invoicing management
  • Payment Links for quick and easy links for one-time payments
  • Link for an accelerated checkout experience designed to reduce friction at checkout and increase conversion
  • Sigma and Data Pipeline for accessing your Stripe data to build customized reports in the Dashboard, or alongside other business data, such as inventory or CRM data, in your data warehouse
  • Radar for detecting fraud in online channels, which can help mitigate fraud across other channels

What makes Stripe’s unified commerce solution so powerful?

Stripe delivers best-in-class unified commerce capabilities through the breadth of our product portfolio and ability to engineer responsive, agile solutions from the ground up.

Key differentiators of Stripe’s unified commerce offering include:

  • A complementary suite of products, such as Invoicing, Billing, and Payment Links, that enables users to create a comprehensive commerce stack, bridging the gap between in-person and online experiences
  • Interoperability with Stripe Connect, offering platforms unparalleled scale and customization for online and in-person payments
  • A dedicated hardware team and proprietary Android platform, enabling personalized and extendable point-of-sale experiences designed specifically for Stripe users and their customers

Working with Stripe to power your strategy enables you to:

Support multiple channels and payment methods
Stripe offers support for emerging channels like in-store mobile payments and tableside payments. Stripe Terminal enables this by supporting a range of payment methods and checkout use cases, from handheld to countertop and tableside. Also, businesses can manage in-store queues by offering checkout anywhere in the store using features like Tap to Pay. Additionally, Stripe-designed smart readers can be transformed into all-in-one devices to manage tasks like order management and loyalty in addition to payment acceptance.

For businesses looking to reduce friction at checkout, Link automatically fills customers’ saved payment details, allowing them to check out faster. Payment Links also enables businesses to create shareable links to sell across multiple channels, like chat, social, and mobile.

With Stripe Billing, you can bill and manage customers however you want—from simple recurring billing to usage-based billing and sales-negotiated contracts, allowing you to collect more revenue. Features like Smart Retries and card account updater go even further to remove friction from the customer experience around recurring payments while also helping businesses reduce billing-related churn.

Across all of this, Stripe’s support of various local payment methods and payment types allows customers to pay with their preferred method, making the experience more convenient.

Create consistent customer identities across channels
Stripe Payments and Terminal use the same card fingerprint and customer object across online and in-person purchases, providing a single source of truth for customer data. By creating a consistent customer identity across channels, businesses can capture a single view of customers, regardless of the channel they use to make a purchase. This enables businesses to provide situationally relevant and personalized service.

Engineer true channel convergence
With a unified approach, businesses give customers the ability to engage across multiple channels during the buying journey. For example, with Stripe Terminal and Billing, a customer could start a subscription in-store and receive their deliveries at home. This creates a seamless experience for customers, regardless of the channels they choose to shop on.

Unify reporting and insights
Using Stripe’s unified commerce solution enables businesses to integrate payments and customer data from different channels onto a single platform. By adding on Stripe’s modular revenue and finance automation solutions, businesses can also streamline financial operations like sales tax calculation, financial reporting, and data collection. More specifically, businesses looking to access and analyze Payments and Terminal data can use Stripe’s data solutions: Stripe Sigma for complete data access within the Dashboard, or Data Pipeline for centralizing Stripe data alongside other business data in your data warehouse. Both Sigma and Data Pipeline allow businesses to build custom reports using their data. With this capability, businesses can access new insights to improve marketing, inventory management, and customer service, leading to improved efficiency and profitability.

Provide better customer service
The benefits of a unified commerce reporting system also extend to store associates, who can provide better customer service when they can access more data in one place. With access to real-time data facilitated by Sigma and Data Pipeline, store associates can make more informed decisions, such as making personalized product recommendations or identifying and resolving issues with order fulfillment.

Reduce fraud
Fraud detection in one channel can help prevent fraud across other channels. Stripe processes hundreds of billions of dollars in payments annually. This scale enables more accurate detection and automatic blocking of true fraud to save businesses money. For instance, if Stripe Radar detects a stolen card attempting to make a purchase online, it can block that card from transacting in stores.

Scale and expand with ease
Stripe removes the complexity of building and maintaining a unified commerce system by providing a single set of integrations so that businesses can focus on the customer experience instead of their architecture.

Stripe’s GPTN (Global Payments and Treasury Network) allows companies to enable unified commerce across new countries, currencies, and payment methods with only a few lines of code and a common integration. Using a single set of APIs reduces engineering time and resources, making international expansion and scaling lower effort and lower cost.

Boost platform customer acquisition and retention
Using Stripe Connect, Payments, and Terminal can help your platform become a one-stop shop for your customers to manage their business, increasing your platform’s stickiness. Additionally, Stripe uses a single onboarding flow for online and in-person payments, which minimizes friction and helps users get started faster.

Integrate all the tools you use to run your business
Stripe Apps lets you connect and customize Stripe with the services and systems you use to run your business. Find apps on the Stripe App Marketplace or create one for your team’s specific customer and backend workflows. Apps are available for a variety of functions—from Intercom, which helps improve customer service and support; to Mailchimp for faster and automated marketing campaigns; to Xero for managing your accounting and finances.

Real-world examples

Castlery

Castlery, a direct-to-consumer furniture store, implemented a unified commerce strategy with Stripe to manage its in-store and ecommerce payments in one place. By switching to Stripe, it was able to improve the customer experience with seamless payments, quick and hassle-free refunds, and cross-channel, personalized service. Castlery’s back-of-the-house operations have also become more efficient. Store associates no longer have to manually input information into internal systems. Rather, systems are instantly updated with the tap of a customer’s card, giving Castlery a unified view of the customer. The finance team also enjoys a simplified reconciliation process. Instead of printing out accounts from various providers for offline and online payments and spending hours tracking down various codes and transactions, all transaction data is now easily available in the Dashboard.

Traxero

Traxero, a provider of towing and roadside service software solutions, sought to improve its payment system by integrating Stripe Payments, Terminal, and Connect. The business faced challenges with its previous payments provider, including reliability issues, lack of visibility into transactions and refunds, and an inability to accept both online and in-person payments using a single solution. After switching to Stripe, Traxero built a unified commerce solution in under a month, setting the business up for sustained future growth. Now, Traxero’s customers can manage everything payments related in real time and in one place, freeing up more time to focus on their business.

Interested in implementing unified commerce? Contact sales.

Looking to personalize and improve your customer service? Check out our guide on seamless service.

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