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What is a Commerce Platform and How Does it Unlock the Future of Retail?

The retail industry has changed, and savvy business owners are taking note. Over the last decade, cloud point of sale (POS) systems have given retailers the ability to adapt their operations to the needs of modern consumers by making business operations more agile. Before the Covid-19 pandemic forced many retailers to lock down or move online, cloud POS may have seemed good enough to many retailers. However, the pandemic put a spotlight on the limitations of a standalone POS, which today is generally cobbled together with a variety of vendors from payments to eCom.

I’ve seen the challenges facing retailers accelerate over the last two years, with supply chain struggles, lockdowns and the redefinition of the physical retail space. With challenges comes evolution. Cloud POS was the first step in that evolution, but it is far from the last. It’s time to keep moving forward. Business owners need more than a better POS. They even need more than better e-commerce. The future of retail isn’t more complexity—it’s more integration.

Fully-integrated commerce platforms are the key to unlocking the future of retail. And they aren’t just on the horizon—they’re here now.

What is a commerce platform?

The retail industry has shifted from channel-focused (where you’re selling) to consumer-focused (where consumers are shopping). And that presents a challenge for the traditional retail POS.

In simple terms, a commerce platform includes all the technology a retailer needs to manage their business, integrated into a single platform. Whether they’re launching their first retail shop, expanding to new locations, adding e-commerce or integrating payments, suppliers and accounting, a commerce platform enables retailers to leverage data to launch and manage new workflows faster than ever before.

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Today, many retailers selling across multiple channels are forced to continually count inventory to avoid stockouts of their products—updating their online stores when a product’s sold in-person, updating their POS when it’s sold online. A commerce platform does away with all that. It connects all their channels into a single inventory to synchronize sales and inventory data and eliminate the risk of double-selling altogether.

And if that same retailer needs to order new stock, they can order anything they need right from their preferred vendors without ever leaving the platform. A good commerce platform also allows retailers to better leverage their data. From sales and inventory reports to employee performance, their commerce platform enables them to transform cross-workflow data into comprehensive insights and recommendations at the click of a button.

There are essentially four main components to a commerce platform:

A robust, easy-to-use cloud point of sale system

This is the system used to process sales, manage inventory and power a physical location.

With cloud-based POS servers, business owners access their POS system by picking up any device with internet connectivity. Having a cloud-based POS at the heart of a commerce platform means retailers can take their business—and data—with them anywhere in the world.

An e-commerce platform

This is the part of the commerce platform that hosts an e-commerce store, from site theme to inventory and anything else you might need to sell online.

Like cloud-based POS systems, having an online shop breaks the retail experience away from the confines of four walls. Having these two tentpole sales channels connected through a commerce platform unlocks on-the-go operational management.

Payment processing

Payment processing is a component of—but separate from—a point of sale system. However, with a commerce platform, these components function as one unified system. Integrated payments will generally come from payment processing services provided by the commerce platform.

Integrated payments enable retailers to access reports on payments and settlements right from their commerce platform. This also opens efficient new data and analytics opportunities that would historically only be available through expensive consultants or resource-heavy data projects.

Supplier marketplaces

This is where a commerce platform takes retail to the next level.

Either through built-in tools or ready-to-connect integrations, a commerce platform allows retailers to order inventory and manage purchasing through the same platform that manages their sales channels. This means retailers can leverage sales data to automatically decide what to order and when, and top of the line technology will offer purchasing suggestions based on local and regional trends.

Why you need a commerce platform

Consumer behavior has evolved. Shoppers have leaned into local delivery and pickup almost as much as shopping in person. Alternative payment methods like Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) are quickly becoming the norm and sales channels are as varied as the shoppers using them. With this much change, retailers need to be able to act fast to keep up.

Take TikTok Shopping for example; 49 percent of TikTok users said they’ve purchased something after seeing it advertised, promoted or reviewed on the platform. A commerce platform built to integrate would allow retailers to adopt channels like TikTok Shopping faster, responding to shopping trends in real-time.

Today’s consumers aren’t just interacting with one sales channel. They’re looking at all of them. In fact, according to a recent survey by Lightspeed, retailers in North America and Europe leveraging multiple channels saw greater sales growth than merchants selling just on e-commerce or in a physical store.

And with a commerce platform, retailers can manage all that and more. No more hopping from platform to platform. No more wasted hours ordering and counting inventory.

Today, as customers return to shopping in-store, retailers must continue to embrace new solutions to engage their customers. Through integrated commerce platforms, customers can shop where and how they like, ordering and inventory management are one and the same and all that data flows right to the business owner—whenever and wherever they need it.

With integrated commerce platforms, customer experiences that were once limited to the retailers with the means to create them are now available to everyone right out of the box.

And if that doesn’t sound like the future of retail, I don’t know what does.

Lightspeed’s board of directors appointed JP Chauvet to the role of chief executive officer on Feb. 2, 2022. He joined Lightspeed in October 2012 as chief revenue officer. He became a board member in September of 2013 and was named to the role of president in April 2016. During that time, Chauvet has been integral to the vision and strategy of Lightspeed, including its strategic acquisitions, listings on the Toronto Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange, and the launch and growth of its Lightspeed Payments platform.