We Need to Talk About Unified Basket

We Need to Talk About Unified Basket

The in-store digital touch-screen, if you can believe it, just turned 30-years-old. Debuted by Florsheim Shoe Co. in 1986, coverage1 of the technology reads as amusingly quaint—while at the same time uncomfortably familiar:

"At Florsheim, the electronic shopping terminals allow customers… to look at merchandise by touching the machine's infrared screen and to place their orders. The orders are transmitted to Florsheim's warehouse and sent directly to the customer within seven days, usually by United Parcel Service."

What's striking is how much the cutting-edge in-store ordering experiences of 30 years ago resemble the endless-aisle and save-the-sale experiences of today. Touch-screen are still in widespread use even though, as Forrester has noted2, "[they] are often relegated to areas of the store where they have little impact on the business."

Touch-screens have lasted three decades as the default solution for avoiding lost sales from stock-outs or limited assortments—so they're clearly filling a void. But there’s a contradiction: they're so redundant with what a shopper's smartphone offers that retailers are no longer investing in them.

To solve the challenge, it's important to understand that the touch-screen’s staying power can be attributed to a lack of discourse on the idea of transactional friction.

The Two-Basket Check Out

Jeff Bezos, in a recent interview, laid out3 the three "needle-movers" of retail innovation over Amazon's next 20 years:

"Selection, price and speed of delivery […] It's impossible for me to imagine, 20 years from now, a customer saying, "I love Amazon, I just wish you'd deliver a little more slowly." Or, "I love Amazon, I just wish you had less selection. I wish your prices were a little higher."

In a bit of wry misdirection, Bezos omitted at least one area of investment for the company. Take a look at a few of the retail-related "service-as-a-product" offerings Amazon has introduced in just the last two years:

  • The Dash scanning device, which allows an AmazonFresh customer to order a grocery product by scanning its barcode or saying its name
  • The Dash button, a push-button ordering device for CPG
  • Dash replenishment service, through which smart home devices can order parts and refills
  • The Alexa intelligent assistant platform, which opens up voice-based ordering of Prime-eligible products

Not one of these options offers greater product selection, lower prices or faster delivery. Rather, they are all focused on removing transactional friction: obstacles and delays in the short span of time between product selection and purchase.

What does this have to do with touch-screens? Imagine the customer who wants to order an item from the retailer's network via the touch-screen while also buying something from the store she's in. In essence, she has two separate baskets to manage; Friction gets introduced at nearly every moment between product selection and completing the purchase:

  • Two ways to add and remove items from the basket
  • Two mechanisms to identify herself to the retailer
  • Two processes to apply discounts
  • Two payments
  • Two receipts

And, ultimately, two separate interactions with the brand—and myriad opportunities to abandon both baskets altogether.

The One-Basket Solution

In response, point of sale devices equipped with unified basket capabilities are beginning to address transactional friction. A unified basket transaction is one where the online order (whether for pickup at another store, ship to the same store for later pickup, or home delivery) is processed at the same time as in-store purchase. This requires a point of sale that takes an enterprise-wide approach to the transaction:

  • Product information for both online and in-store assortments with a real-time view of inventory and fulfilment timeframes from across the network
  • Pricing and promotion information across channels
  • Linking in-store and digital purchases to a single record that includes customer transactions and account information
  • Single-swipe payment for both halves of the transaction with a single receipt, printed and/or emailed
  • Close integration with an enterprise order management system to post the online sale, settle payment and orchestrate fulfilment
  • Empowerment of the store associate to manage both parts of the transaction as a single process

Implementing a mobile point of sale (mPOS) with unified basket capabilities offers more benefits: The customer can browse the extended catalogue shoulder-to-shoulder with the store associate, offering an opportunity to quickly convert the sale right on the store floor. For retailers reluctant to 'rip-and-replace' their legacy POS, mPOS can act as an 'over-the-top' solution.

Regardless of the device used, these unified basket solutions are commonly built on top of an enterprise order management system (OMS) —an operational platform that acts as a system of record for three key pieces of real-time data: customer purchase history, network-wide inventory, and order execution. And the first step in this process of removing transactional friction in the store, of course, is talking about unified basket.


1 Florsheim Stepping Into Future With Electronic Shoe Catalogue (Chicago Tribune)
2 TechRadar™: Digital Store Customer Experience Technology, Q3 2016 (Forrester)
3 Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon | Code Conference 2016 (YouTube)

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