Meeting the challenges of unified commerce with Michaels, Ikea and Tapestry

Incisiv Chief Strategy Officer Giri Agarwal leads a conversation on the strategies and benefits behind unified commerce
Fiona Soltes
NRF Contributor

Some might consider “unified commerce” as something to roll an eye at, admits Giri Agarwal, chief strategy officer, Incisiv. But do that, he warns, “at your own peril.” It represents a fundamental reset, a way of “thinking about how you deliver a retail experience that isn’t a patchwork of things that weren’t designed to deliver it.”

Agarwal moderated a panel at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show with Jason Brenner, senior vice president, digital, Michaels; Amanda Effron, chief digital officer, Ikea; and Yang Lu, senior vice president, global commerce and customer engagement solutions, Tapestry Inc. The featured session took place on the Firework Stage.

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Agarwal started by noting that the linear path to purchase is dead: Consumers don’t see channels the same way retailers do; they just want to shop. The challenge is that in the transition between digital and physical, retailers can lose context.

“We lose continuity,” he said. “We lose the ability to consistently execute our customer experience at scale. Anytime when convenience is commodity, virtue is a brand, and the ability to differentiate the experience through unification becomes a critical component of your ability to create that stickiness and that engagement with your customer.”

Effron called unified commerce “the approach of creating familiar and consistent experiences across channel, agnostic of touchpoint, and really optimizing and playing on the nuances of those channels to get the most targeted behavior out of the consumer as possible.”

Lu added the technology perspective, with consumers being able to shop anytime, anywhere, using any device to achieve that experience, through the availability of data.

Drivers of excellence

Incisiv, along with Manhattan Associates, Zebra Technologies and Google Cloud, recently embarked on an ambitious project to understand what drives unified commerce excellence. The 2023 benchmark study, Unified Commerce for Specialty Retail, spanned more than 200 retailers in nine markets, including data such as real purchases, store visits, returns and engagements.

In presenting insights from the study, Agarwal said the legacy digital business growth equation (traffic x conversion x average order value x purchase frequency = revenue growth) is under duress, and traffic is no longer available as an “easy growth lever.”

This brings focus to conversion, average order value and purchase frequency, which are all impacted by excellent unified customer experience. Greater unified commerce maturity, then, drives higher business performance. In response, Brenner spoke about using unified commerce as a “north star,” while focusing on optimizing key performance indicators.

Agarwal noted that unified commerce is as much about depth of experience as it is about basic unification — which requires a solid technology foundation, Lu said. When technology systems are disconnected, so is the customer experience. Tapestry — a global house of brands including Coach, Kate Spade New York and Stuart Weitzman — made a strategic decision to invest in technology, unifying its systems across channels onto a single “customer engagement platform.” The platform is for its employees as much as for customers, Lu said.

Brenner said what Tapestry was doing was “hard to get right,” and requires focus on priorities.

Availability and delivery are top priorities

Another takeaway, Agarwal shared, is that dynamic inventory availability and accurate delivery date promising are “almost the top priority for retailers to get right, because this is the new battleground for conversion.” That requires having what the customer is looking for.

Jason Brenner at NRF 2024: Retail's Big Show.
Jason Brenner, senior vice president, digital, Michaels speaks at NRF 2024: Retail's Big Show.

Lu also touched on the need for “persistent, relentless experimentation,” and building a culture of “test and learn.” Iteration, she said, “is the new perfection.”

All in all, the panelists agreed, unified commerce is a journey rather than a destination. It continues to evolve. Some areas will be more mature than others, highlighting the need to choose battles carefully.

“You don’t have to get it right,” Brenner said. “And you don’t actually have to have all the right answers. What you have to have, is a data-driven hypothesis, and then you have to have the culture and the infrastructure … and the data to test and learn and iterate your way to success.”

The journey toward unified commerce, he said, “is a journey we’ll be on for a long time.”

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