Retail has evolved in leaps and bounds in the last 10 to 15 years. Bricks-and-mortar retail, for so long the only way to shop, faced disruption from eCommerce. To varying degrees and at varying rates, retailers embraced the online revolution, whether alongside or instead of a physical location.

Pureplay retailers surged, using a digital-only approach to tap into the online boom. Omnichannel retail then became the optimum strategy in the opinion of many within the industry. And today, unified commerce – whereby retailers provide a holistic customer experience across every touchpoint – is building on omnichannel.

Australia’s unified commerce market is worth a staggering AUD$44 billion, a figure that is forecast to grow. However, while the concept and benefits of unified commerce are acknowledged industry-wide, tens of thousands of retailers have yet to adopt the approach.

According to SHOPLINE’s Unified Commerce Benchmarking Study, which sought to understand how retail business owners and decision-makers are approaching 2024, there is a notable gap between the number of retailers who recognise its importance, and the number who are doing anything about it.

But what’s driving this inertia? And why is overcoming it so critical?

Overcoming inertia

SHOPLINE’s Unified Commerce Benchmarking Study found that while two-thirds (65%) of Australian retailers recognise the importance of unified commerce, only 31% of the overall market currently adopts it. The barriers are varied, but the consistent trend – from small retailers with less than AUD$10 million gross value merchandising (GVM) to very large retailers with more than AUD$100 – is that adoption is lagging. Overcoming that inertia is critical to growth – especially as global heavyweights continue to invest heavily in the Australian market.

As this competition for shoppers intensifies, standing out from the crowd is critical. Overall, integration with existing platforms and legacy software is the most common barrier to adopting unified commerce and new technology for over half (55%) of retailers. To improve competitiveness, retailers should prioritise solutions with flexible integration capabilities and invest in integration tools and expertise to ensure the implementation is seamless.

Economic pressures are set to persist for some time, and capital cost emerged as another common barrier. Over half (54%) said it was preventing them from adopting unified commerce, while almost two in three (60%) said it was hindering their broader technology adoption. Tapping into one vendor who can cater to all of their business needs with a unified solution, rather than relying on multiple best-in-breed, but siloed, solutions are far more cost-effective.

These cost concerns are greater for smaller retailers than for bigger counterparts. Small retailers prioritise price (60%) while medium-sized retailers focus on existing relevant integrations (38%), and very large retailers value vendors with a strong vision, strategy, and innovation (33%) much more than the rest of the market (20%).

Two in five (41%) small retailers face challenges when it comes to selecting the best option when adopting new technology, indicating challenges in navigating the complex landscape of available solutions. Conducting thorough research, seeking recommendations from peers, and engaging with trusted technology partners to identify the most suitable solutions for their business – and their customers – is critical. If small retailers can be clear about the problem they’re trying to solve or the opportunity they’re trying to achieve, selecting the right technology is easier.

From unified to future-proof

While there are many short-term challenges that businesses face today, retailers must also think long-term. For all retailers – particularly large retailers (37%) – future-proofing their business is a critical focus. Unified commerce enables retailers to overcome short-term challenges and pursue opportunities, whilst also focussing on the long-term.

Leading solutions have flexible architectures and scalability, as well as built-in capabilities for future upgrades and enhancements. That enables retailers of any size to meet the immediate needs of their customers, whilst also being flexible, adaptable and well-positioned to evolve as the industry continues its inevitable evolution.

The importance of unified commerce is widely recognised among Australian retailers; however, there is still work to be done to translate this acknowledgment into action. Our research suggests that, over the next 12 months, there will be a positive trend in the adoption of unified commerce.

Retailers who are ahead of the curve in doing so will establish competitive advantages in the long-term. Consumer expectations are higher than ever before; through unified commerce, retailers can meet and exceed those needs in an increasingly interconnected online and in-store retail environment.

Vasko Ckorovski is head of commercial operations at SHOPLINE.