A Treatise on Omnichannel

Published March 14, 2013 Share

I’ve been known to partake in the occasional musing. Out on my bike on a warm California day, you may find me staring into space, reflecting on the world in which we live.

One of my favorite topics, to ponder, as of late, has been the discrepancy between how most purveyors of eCommerce tend to think about our customers, and how they think about us.

We think of them in terms of their habits and tendencies; their likes and their dislikes. Then we ascribe words and statistics to describe what they’re looking for. It’s all very scientific.

Nowhere was this more apparent than at the recent NRF show in New York City. Ask anyone who attended the show about the biggest takeaway and they’ll probably tell you, “Omnichannel, omnichannel, omnichannel!”

Just consider this article from Monetate, entitled “Omnichannel All the Buzz at NRF’s Big Show,” in which the author said, “That’s right: Omnichannel, omnichannel, omnichannel.”

See? I told you so.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word omnichannel as… “The word you've entered isn't in the dictionary.”

Hmm … that’s telling…

The term omnichannel certainly is impressive. It sounds grand and boisterous—a perfect synthesis of jargon and technicality. But sometimes I worry that we get so caught up in the race to describe what consumers want that we may forget what that actually means.

Most of us carry computers in our pockets now that have access to all the known information we have amassed about this world of ours. The knowledge of our world has been distilled into magic panels that are smaller than a magazine (they also happen to be replacing magazines). So, really, for the first time in history, we as consumers have the ability to access masses of information from literally anywhere—and we do.

But that’s the problem with well-connected consumers: we expect the world to catch up.

Forbes recently said that “The key to succeeding in omni-channel retailing is understanding the new role of the store: the central representation of your brand. This means that no matter which channel the customer is using to reach you—brick and mortar, online, or mobile—your customers see your store as a single, transparent system rather than multiple channels with separate inventory, processing, and delivery systems.” 

Hmm…deep.  The “store” not as a physical place, but a grander representation of your business.  I like it!

Say I’m a runner… or better yet, let’s say I run so I don’t get too out of shape… and I want to buy some new running shoes. And I personally like Mizuno shoes. Ten years ago, my first stop would have been a local running store, hoping they carry ridiculous sizes. But today I’m going to start by hitting the Internet. If I’m at home, I hop on my computer, find my favorite size 13’s, click Add to Cart, and wait for the running boats to arrive at my door – in an oversized box, of course.

But let’s say I’m on the run (apologies for the pun) and all I’ve got is my smartphone in my pocket. Or perhaps I ditched my computer for a tablet. While we’re at it, let’s assume that I just want to order online and make a quick stop at the nearest athletic store during my lunch break to pick up my shoes.

These are all potential barriers to me, as a shopper. If I can’t easily access Mizuno from my smartphone or my tablet, I might give up and settle on some other brand. Or in the case that I want to order online and pick up in a store; if that’s not an option, then there’s always the chance that a clerk at the store will convince me to buy some of the Brooks he has in stock.

Never once in this scenario am I going to think about which “channel” I prefer to use—I just use all the tools at my disposal. When I can access my favorite brand from anywhere, whether it’s online or in a store, that’s eCommerce transformed.

There’s so much power in the Internet—whether it’s in the form of PC, tablet, or mobile—that it’s silly to ignore. Simply open the doors to online shoppers, and they’ll reward you.

Consider this article, which outlines the inventory headaches that even a company like Macy’s encountered by allowing in-store returns of online orders. Go read the piece, then think about how a ship-from-store solution, which combines the power of the Internet and brick-and-mortar stores, can easily patch up those inventory gaps.

The point is, that when you think like a customer, and not about inventory problems, or revenue attribution issues, you begin to see the world in a whole new way—and it certainly is a new world out there. As Albert Einstein so famously said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

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