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what if? so what? 

What if Web Search Results Came From Soul Searching Results? An Interview With Justin Racine. 

In this episode, Jim and Kim talk with Justin Racine, director, and lead commerce strategist at Perficient, and explore the concept of unified commerce and its impact on customer experiences and business growth. Learn how you can leverage the technology you already have to make customers feel more connected to your brand.

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Guest Profile

Justin Racine

Justin Racine is Director, Lead Commerce Strategist at Perficient. Justin drives digital commerce strategies that assist Fortune 500 brands in achieving and exceeding business goals through commerce-enabled technologies. Justin has over 14 years of experience in e-commerce, customer-focused experiences, and branding strategy. In addition, Justin has been published in Forbes, Digital Commerce360, and Henry Stewart’s Journal of Brand Strategy.

Meet the Hosts

Jim Hertzfeld

Jim Hertzfeld is Principal and Chief Strategist for Perficient. For over two decades, he has worked with clients to convert market insights into real-world digital products and customer experiences that actually grow their business. More than just a strategist, Jim is a pragmatic rebel known for challenging the conventional and turning grand visions into actionable steps. His candid demeanor, sprinkled with a dose of cynical optimism, shapes a narrative that challenges and inspires listeners.

Kim Williams-Czopek

Kim Williams-Czopek is GM of Global Commerce at Perficient. She works with clients to devise digital experience strategies and how to translate strategies to tactics. She specializes in digital commerce, digital product development, user research and testing strategies, and digital responsibility.
Special thanks to our Perficient colleagues JD Norman and Rick Bauer for providing the music for today’s show.

Episode 41: What if Web Search Results Came From Soul Searching Results? - Transcript

Justin (00:05):

That's what soul searching is. What, what do I want to be when I grow up? Right? So need to really like, look and determine inward, what's important to your brand, what your brand stands for. But most importantly, why do consumers buy from you? Why are they so engaged with what you're offering and your products? What's at the core and the cornerstone that keeps them coming back? And you kind of have to position the unification commerce strategy around what's important to your consumers today. But if you can try to hypothesize what's gonna be important for your consumers down the road so that you can plan for it,

Jim (00:39):

Welcome to What If? So What?, the podcast where we ask what's possible with digital and figure out how to make it real in your business. I'm Jim Hertzfeld.

Kim (00:47):

And I'm Kim Czopek.

Jim (00:48):

And today we'll ask what if? So what? And most importantly, now what?

Kim (00:53):

Ecommerce, multi-channel, cross-channel, omnichannel, less so many words for the same business goals, if you know, you know, but what if commerce really has evolved and matured so as to achieve what we were aiming for all along unified commerce where the customer is at the center of everything and data drives every decision. Jim, is it possible?

Jim (01:19):

Kim, I love your list of channels. I remember when multi-channel meant store and catalog. I remember when we only had five channels on my tv. I guess I'm dating myself, but I love

Kim (01:29):

That's ok. I only had three.

Jim (01:30):

Three, okay. Okay. We had rabbit ears, I guess. You know, I remember when omnichannel became really overused. In fact, the NRF, the National Retail Federation big show about 10 years ago, like, they kind of banned it. They sort of shadow-banned it from the event. I remember it was like one year was on every session and the next year it was gone, but everybody was still talking about it. I'm really glad we're covering this topic today because I love the idea of real-time seamless, frictionless service. But you know, I'm a little afraid this is just old wine in a new bottle. So we brought, our friend and colleague and commerce strategist, Justin Racine, to the show. Really excited to give his wine spectator score on this. Justin, is it, is it old wine in new, in a new bottle? Maybe you can enlighten us. Welcome to the show.

Justin (02:17):

Thank you both for having me. I'm excited to be here and talk with you both on this. Well, I mean, I, I'd say it probably is, I think what has probably changed a little bit, and maybe we'll talk, you know, a bit further around this, is some of what has happened with Covid has, you know, caused brands and consumers in general to think differently about experiences. But I think technology holistically has evolved in a way where it's more achievable and maybe more digestible for brands to move down this path now than it has been before. So a little bit, but I think there's some new interesting ways of thinking about things. And I think one of the main things that's different is that traditionally you'd have a lot of the IT leaders, you know, leading the charge of technology and, and what to do. And what, what has kind of changed quite a bit is that the business and the IT leaders are now in the same room together and they're working more collaboratively because the business folks are saying, Hey, you know, I wanna achieve X, Y, Z and I can't do it right now.

Justin (03:14):

So I think that's kind of a bit of, of a pivot and, and a change. But yeah, I think there's definitely some, some good opportunity to leverage what has happened, you know, in the last few years as an inspiration for, for growth.

Kim (03:26):

So Justin, what is unified commerce?

Justin (03:29):

Yeah, great question. So Unified commerce kind of takes a page out of what I think we all know as omnichannel. And omnichannel has been around for a while. I'd say the main difference between omnichannel and unified commerce is that within the unified commerce approach, the consumer really is at the center of, in the core of everything that's happening. And, you know, in the omnichannel piece of it, there's multiple channels, right? I can purchase through an ecommerce website, I can purchase through a native mobile app, I can go to a store and buy something, right? There's different channels for me to purchase and procure and digest content. The main key difference is that in omnichannel, I might go in store and buy hiking boots and after I make that purchase, you know, maybe they capture some of my account information, but maybe they don't. When I go home and use the hiking boots, maybe I want to get some, you know, thermal socks, or I'm gonna, you know, go on a, a hiking trip and I need a tent, another, you know, outdoor products in an omnichannel approach that's not all connected.

Justin (04:33):

So the in-store experience of me buying those hiking boots is not migrating back over to the next time that I actually log into the e-commerce website and maybe I want to make additional purchases. So that behavior and that action of buying those boots doesn't go to the other channels where I'm active in and it doesn't pivot and personalize my journey in those channels based upon my behavior previously. So unified commerce enables that to happen because it really focuses on meeting the customer consumer wherever they are in personalizing their experience and their journey based upon things, specific unique things that I've done previously throughout my buying experience. So what what it really boils down to is within omnichannel, it, it's really seen as a, a sort of monologue, right? The brand is putting information out, the consumer can digest that information or product, but it isn't offering up a dialogue.

Justin (05:32):

And the dialogue between a brand and a consumer is really around, you know, the actions that I take as a consumer and how that can change the journey moving forward. You know what I'm saying? So I'm, I'm buying a product and I'm having a dialogue with the brand. I'm telling the brand what I'm doing, and the brand has the ability through technology to pivot any channel experience based upon that purchase and set of purchases that I've made previously. So it really takes omnichannel and, and supercharges it into this unified experience where things can change in real time based upon actions that I as a consumer are, are taking and doing.

Kim (06:11):

So the data is really the, the thread that enables that action.

Justin (06:15):

The, for sure, a hundred percent the data is the thread and it also is the connectivity of all of the technology systems in a way that allows consumer behavior purchases sentiment to enable change through other channels that that consumer is active in.

Jim (06:31):

So Justin, that sounds like just really good digital customer experience, but I think what you're saying is that it's really supercharging that commerce, I wanna say transactional, right? But sort of the value creation, if I can go there, like from a commerce standpoint, it's, it's really activating and driving the behavior that the brands want.

Justin (06:50):

Yes, it is what the brands want, but it's more so what the consumer is looking to achieve and do as well because consumer expectations change daily and brands and, and companies struggle to keep up with the, that ever-changing demand of what a good experience, quote unquote looks like. So this unified approach allows that seamless customer experience on the front end, you know, regardless of where that journey is or, or what purchases that they're making. And I think the one thing that might be a little bit different is, you know, good digital experience, I think traditionally kind of takes cohorts of customers and puts them in a group with a real true unified commerce experience. You might look like another consumer and that's all well and great to start you off on a specific journey. But each, you're, you're kind of a, a persona and journey in, in and of yourself because sure, you might have similar behaviors to someone else, but within a unified approach, it really doesn't matter once you're started who you look like because the journey, the products, the content will be pivoted based upon behavior and activity that I do that, you know, is specific to me as a person.

Jim (07:57):

Yeah. Real one-to-one, right? That's really, this is what you're getting at or mass customization, kinda my favorite term.

Justin (08:02):

Favorite terms, right? Yep. A hundred percent.

Kim (08:04):

Justin, is there any brand doing a really good job of this right now? Or is this truly the next step that is now achievable?

Justin (08:13):

Sure, yeah. I mean, I, I think you can name some of the large ones that are out there, like Amazon and Target, who, you know, when we talk about unified commerce, we also traditionally talk about like composable headless, because you are really leveraging the best in class everything to deliver solid experiences. So the Amazons and Targets and Walmarts of the world are software companies that happen to sell products because they've built everything essentially the way that they want. They might be leveraging some third parties, but you know, they're essentially building a solution that, you know, frames up what their customers are looking for. So, you know, those are, are the, like the leaders that are in the space, I would say for leading that unification train or, or Journey. But a majority of the brands that are out there have purchased best in class technology.

Justin (09:03):

You know, they might have a really good CRM and a really good commerce platform, a good personalization engine, a good product information management system. They've invested in order management system, they've invested in probably third party, you know, onsite search. So they have all these different things. It's the connectivity between them, the meat, if you will, between the two pieces of bread that are, are, are sort of lacking, right? The process in between, you know, if a B2B organization has a CRM and a sales rep goes to, you know, one of their customers and the, and the customer saying, you know, I'm interested in buying this bulk purchase three months from now, you know, the products I had before are gonna be out of warranty, here's what I'm looking at. That sales rep can, you know, identify and notate that within the cm, but is the CRM changing the journey of that specific customer and all the channels that they're active and sending them emails specific to what was discussed in that conversation and pivoting banners on the website whenever they log in and authenticate to remind them that this specific manufacturer has the right solutions and products.

Justin (10:05):

No, that's not happening on a mass scale. So I think some folks are are doing it well, but, and, and, and I, what I will say is a lot of brands have invested in the technology that will help them achieve this. It's just pulling it all together and sharing the data and the customer preference across these different pieces of technology to thus unify the experience.

Kim (10:26):

That makes a lot of sense. It's all about enabling and leveraging the technology that you already have and getting people to, to actually use it, I guess. So why would any organization make the investment? Because it sounds like it would take a little bit of an investment change management, a little disruption. Why would any organization want to make this transition to go from channel to unified?

Justin (10:50):

Sure. Yeah. I, I think it, it's something I think inherently that will happen over time, but, you know, consumers really wanna feel heard and seen with a brand. And there's all this talk now of like, well, I don't wanna share my data and, you know, I don't want, you know, brands knowing what's going on or like, you know, I talk about something, you know, and my phone pulls up a TikTok. That's the exact same thing, right? Like, I think we've all sort of heard that, but I'm from the, the mindset of like, if, if I can provide information that's going to improve my experience as a consumer and suggest products that maybe I didn't know about, but I want and need, I'm all for that. And I think that's the kind of the secret sauce here is that you want as a brand to be able to connect with your customers and any brand that can take on human-like characteristics where a consumer doesn't see them as a business they buy product from, but they see them as a connection or, you know, you know, more of like that that human type feel or, or human type characteristics.

Justin (11:47):

It, it creates a level of trust and loyalty with the brand and it creates an emotional connection, which sounds kind of weird between brand and consumer. And that emotional connection will help weather storms of hard times in the future if there's, you know, a bad customer service experience or maybe a product wasn't delivered on time. So it really kind of, you know, going that unified approach really can help consumers feel more connected to the brand because they feel heard and seen the in the different channels, which creates stickiness and customer lifetime value and allows the brand to continue to evolve to meet the consumer's needs as preference changes, which is inherent, right? You're gonna, maybe you buy the same, you know, type of shampoo, but you wanna mix it up and buy a different type or a different soap, right? That's gonna happen, but you still need to enable the experiences to adapt to customer preferences that are changing. So the real why you should do this is because if you don't, your consumer will likely find another brand potentially at some point that well.

Jim (12:50):

Yeah, that's just good business. I guess that was kind of my follow up question, Justin, is I guess as a consumer, convenience is a huge factor. I know,  but I think you know, a lot of our clients and some of the research we're doing on behalf of our clients with their customers is, is really about convenience, velocity and speed. But you know, if that's not accurate, it, it's a problem. You know, if, if you don't, if you don't have accurate data, you know, or, or it's changing all the time, order data as there's a client I'm dealing with right now, they just have huge order data issues, manufacturing upstream supply chain issues, and they want to use the digital channels, but you know, that it's, they're just not having a great experience. But I think if, if you get it right, it's frictionless before that worked forever, but, but it is really a more efficient and more cost effective operation for the, for the brand as well if I'm, if I'm reading it right.

Justin (13:39):

Yeah, it definitely, it definitely is. And I think that's the key thing that, you know, you had mentioned is that it can become cost effective because after you implement and connect all these different technologies to enable that, you know, seamless experience cross channel based upon whatever the consumer's behaviors are, I don't wanna say it's like self running itself, but it, it's sort of right. It's, it's authentically learning what the consumer wants and it's pivoting based upon what the consumer is telling the different pieces of experiences or technology.

Jim (14:10):

So I'm gonna, I'm gonna coin it now. Sentient commerce, there you go. That's what I'm hearing. Yeah. So that'll be, that'll be for three years from now, right?

Justin (14:17):

It's, it's, it's AI and ChatGPT AI's cousin.

Jim (14:21):

Yeah. Yeah.

Kim (14:22):

I really go, thought we were gonna get away with not talking about AI.

Jim (14:25):

No. You know, it's, you know, it's not gonna not happen. So <laugh>, so Justin, how do co companies get started? You know, what's the, what's the approach?

Justin (14:34):

Yeah, I think, you know, the, the biggest thing that we, I try to talk with, you know, clients I work with or you know, just people off the street who come up and ask me all the time about unified commerce is, you know, really like taking a, an assessment of, you know, where they're at currently today. You know, I talked earlier about the meat between the pieces of bread. Well, you know, what is the actual, you know, meat, well the meat is the process, but the pieces of bread are, what capabilities do you have and what technology that you've invested in. So taking a sort of internalized look of, you know, what your current capabilities look like, what sort of, you know, folks you've hired in, what business backgrounds they have, what it backgrounds they have, what are they able to do, what are the capabilities they have access to on a daily basis?

Justin (15:16):

Then looking at the technology, well, where, where have you invested? What, what vendors have you partnered with? What technologies have you purchased? Are you using a hundred percent of what that technology was designed for? Or maybe you're only scratching the surface at 10% and then aligning it to the process, right? That's the meat between the pieces of bread. The process is we have all these capabilities, but can we actually achieve and do what we want through the technology that we've invested in, if we can. And we've assessed that that, you know, we really don't have that connectivity between, that's really where you can kind of get started and, and try to determine, you know, organizationally where, where some of the low hanging fruit might be and where you could apply a unification strategy seamlessly that might have, you know, very high upside for your business and your brand.

Justin (16:00):

So that's kind of where, you know, people can kind of get started and how they can look at this. The other piece as well too is, is of course, speaking with your customers and consumers that are buying from you daily and understanding what some of their pain points are. If you are a big retail brand and you're in various different channels, so if you're on social and mobile web, you know, email, sms, there's a lot of channels listed in there, and maybe that connected experience isn't being delivered, you know, well to the consumer who's within there, they might tell you one channel is more painful than the other. So I'd say taking that internal inventory of where you're at from a capabilities process and technology standpoint, but also speaking with your consumers and, and also getting out from behind the desk. If you're a retail brand, go to a store, buy something. If you go, if you buy it, do you get, you know, hit up with emails or, you know, s m s or or other website banners once you get back based upon what you purchased, right? So kind of putting yourself in the consumer shoes and living some of the experiences that you've created within your brand can sometimes open up some potential gaps from this unified standpoint where it'll be pretty obvious where, where there might be some missteps or some elements missing.

Kim (17:13):

I think that's good advice for, for any commerce or digital leader. I'm curious though, Justin, two things on the path to unified commerce today. What is a key capability you think, or you've observed most organizations are missing that they really need to take a look at if they're able to, you know, make any progress here and what's one thing a leader can do today to start the journey on the unified commerce path?

Justin (17:39):

Yeah, I'd say, you know, the biggest capability is probably kind of aligns to your question around the organization itself and being digitally mature in a way that, you know, allows you to achieve this. And what I mean by that is, I kind of alluded to it before, to having, you know, a composable, headless sort of mindset or infrastructure that allows you to leverage these different pieces of technologies through APIs in a way that provides the pivots and the experiences that consumers are looking for. So, you know, that is one capability that is definitely needed. You need to have an a mature IT organization to support this. You can't just buy six pieces of technology and, you know, slap it on and then just let it run, right? There has to be connectivity between it. You have to have the appropriate change management to ensure that your employees know how to, you know, set up customer journeys or, you know, know how to leverage the attribution of what a consumer is doing.

Justin (18:33):

Cross channel, you know, you're, if you have an in-store associates, right, you have to train them to possibly do things differently like asking for their account number when they make a purchase or you know, capturing other pieces of information that can be better used to create compelling experiences going forward. So I'd say those are some of the key capabilities that I won't say are missing. I'll say, I would say all organizations possess the ability to, to leverage their teams to do it, but it's gonna require some refinement and some growth and some training to really allow this to be successful because, you know, it's an army that's gonna have to enable this, not just a few people and everyone has to be bought in. So I think that's kind of the, some of the key capabilities. And then your question as far as, you know, what's one thing a leader can do to start their journey or start the journey for the brand around unified commerce?

Justin (19:22):

You know, the biggest thing that I'd say, and it kind of aligns to the capabilities process and technology, but more so what I call some business soul searching, right? You have to look inward within your brand. What's the history of how the brand got to where it is today? How did the brand get started? How did it evolve over time? Where is it currently and where does the brand want to go, right? That's what soul searching is. What, what do I want to be when I grow up, right? So need to really like look and determine inward, you know, what's important to your brand, what your brand stands for, but most importantly, why do consumers buy from you? Why are they so engaged with what you're offering and your products? What's at the core and the cornerstone that keeps them coming back? And you kind of have to, to position the unification commerce strategy around what's important to your consumers today.

Justin (20:09):

But if you can try to hypothesize what's gonna be an important for your consumers down the road so that you can plan for it. And that's really bookends into unified commerce because of course it's important what's gonna come down the road, but we didn't know Covid was coming, right? But in a unified commerce approach, when you're leveraging order management and you're leveraging all these different systems, you're able to pivot regardless of what factor is causing disruption within your business. Because everything is connected in a way that allows you to pivot experiences and journeys and product placement based upon what's important to the customer. So starting with that business soul searching and starting with the business problems and then working backwards towards, do we have the right technology today to solve these problems? If we do great, is it connected? Maybe not fully, let's get it connected. If we don't, what pieces of technology are we missing that are gonna help us achieve this unified commerce approach? So it starts with the business soul searching, and then it moves into, okay, we know who we want to be when we grow up. Let's figure out what pieces of technology allow us to grow and evolve into the, the brand our consumers want for today and for the future.

Kim (21:22):

Thanks Justin. That was a great conversation on unified commerce. It's certainly, I think we can all agree it, you know, there are no channels anymore. So I know I talked about channel-less and that that feels very akin to what we're talking about with Unified Commerce, because you're right, ultimately any brand has to respond to customer expectations and it it is all about re retention, retaining, mm-hmm like you said. And change. And change, yeah. Yeah. Always change. Yeah. Constant change. You

Jim (21:52):

You don't know what's next,

Kim (21:54):

<Laugh>. Well, and on that note, thank you for listening. Thank you Justin, again for joining us. Thanks Jim, for the conversation. And until next time, keep asking what if, so what, and most importantly now what?


You've been listening to, what if so what? The Digital Strategy podcast from Perficient with Jim Hertzfeld and Kim Czopek, we want to thank our Perficient colleagues, JD Norman and Rick Bauer for our music today. Subscribe to the podcast and don't miss a single episode. You can find this season along with show notes at Thanks for listening.