Salesforce last week unveiled the Salesforce Commerce Cloud, billing it as the fastest path to unified commerce.
It's built on technology from Demandware; Salesforce completed its acquisition of the company this summer.
Commerce Cloud enables brands to provide personalized experiences for shoppers across the Web, mobile devices, social networks and in stores, with both marketing and customer service as part of the mix.
"The connected customer is transforming commerce -- creating new opportunities for brands to transform the buying experience," said Jeff Barnett, CEO of Salesforce Commerce Cloud.
Brands and retailers can unify engagements over any channel or device by leveraging Salesforce's sales, service, marketing, communities, analytics, IoT and platform solutions.
"This gives Salesforce an end-to-end story for business-to-consumer selling customers," observed Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.
"Integrating e-commerce into the broader Salesforce Cloud will give customers one cloud to manage commerce and marketing channels, and reduce integration costs," she told CRM Buyer.
Demandware is also a cloud native solution, making it a "natural fit" in the Salesforce world, and "we've already seen retailers such as Room&Board gain significant ROI from the marketing cloud," Wettemann noted.
Commerce Cloud supports Apple Pay, which is easy to enable. IT support is available at no extra cost.
"Support for Apple Pay and mobile payments further streamlines the buying process for customers, moving us closer to frictionless transactions," Wettemann noted.
Salesforce's Einstein -- which will integrate artificial intelligence into all of Salesforce's products and serve as a new nerve system across the entire business -- is embedded in the Salesforce Platform and, of course, in Salesforce Commerce Cloud.
Einstein includes product recommendations; Predictive Sort, which turns up sort and search results based on the likelihood customers will engage; and Commerce Insights, which helps retailers understand product purchase correlations to improve their merchandise and store planning.
"The addition of Einstein will further advance the personalization and microtargeting capabilities of Commerce Cloud," Wettemann remarked. "The AI battleground in CRM is one to watch, with Salesforce, Oracle and Microsoft all making advances in embedding AI into their solutions."
"Price and products are no longer enough, as customers value experiences," said Sheryl Kingstone, research director at 451 Research.
"Organizations can digitally transform their businesses to best attract, win, retain and support customers," she told CRM Buyer, "by leveraging the latest applications, analytics and infrastructure to deliver a differentiated experience that is not a luxury, but a necessity to survive."
The digital experience is "the new heart of customer engagement," Kingstone pointed out.
Seventy-six percent of respondents to a recent survey preferred digital channels when communicating with businesses, 451 Research found. Fifty percent preferred mobile loyalty programs with personalized rewards, and 40 percent preferred to communicate with a business through social media or messages.
However, most companies provide inconsistent, disconnected experiences, Kingstone pointed out. They treat each interaction or touchpoint as a separate silo, creating multiple experiences.
"Digital transformation initiatives are key in order to stop asking customers to adapt to company processes or technology constraints," she emphasized.
"It isn't the out of the ordinary that vendors need to be good at," suggested Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research.
"Rather, it's the run-of-the-mill, everyday, quotidian interaction -- blocking and tackling," he told CRM Buyer.
AI and unified commerce "can be great helpers in sales-oriented moments of truth," Pombriant said. "I expect that this technology will work well ... anywhere that a clear journey map can exist."
Although this is the future of vendor-customer interactions, especially in retailing, human staff will still be needed for a long time, Pombriant pointed out, because people will want to "jump out and talk to a real human."