‘Omnichannel’ – Should it stay or should it go?

Ray Hartjen
Ray Hartjen
Guest Contributor

Businesses and industries love their jargon, and it doesn’t take long to move from today’s buzzword to tomorrow’s institution, treasured […]

OmnichannelBusinesses and industries love their jargon, and it doesn’t take long to move from today’s buzzword to tomorrow’s institution, treasured as such by assorted “insiders.” Too often though, jargon becomes noise and loses its original meaning. Worse yet, if businesses and industries get stuck on jargon too long – literally yesterday’s/yesteryear’s news – they run the risk of not moving with their changing marketplace.

It’s impossible to lead change, or even be a fast follower for that matter, when buried in the past.

Retailers everywhere are facing that risk with “omnichannel,” the buzzword extraordinaire that burst on the scene years ago to give notion to the future of retail through multiple touchpoint channels – both online and offline – between store and shopper.

Not every retailer embraced the word – my colleague Shelley E. Kohan still cringes whenever she hears or reads it. However, for many the word made sense of a sort, particularly as retailers added channels, such as when a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer created its first online commerce site. Retailers quickly moved from a one channel model to a multi-channel model, and their struggle – an ongoing struggle – was to make the channels consistent (e.g.; allowing shoppers to find the same price in the physical store as online).

Now, “omnichannel” makes sense … not so much.

The lifeblood of all retail is the customer, and customers don’t know omnichannel and don’t care. To them, it’s just “shopping.” But, don’t take my word for it; hear directly what shoppers said when I asked, “What is Omnichannel?”

The problem with omnichannel lies in its root, the word “channel” itself. Omnichannel leads one to think of multiple channels converging into one. That’s how most retailers think, and that’s usually a big disconnect with how shoppers think, act and behave, and what they want – in other words, how they shop.

Shoppers want a seamless, consistent and credible experience as they interact with a brand, with every interaction both convenient and valuable. Each interaction is a test, and each passed test not only guides a shopper further through her purchase process, but also builds the trust critical for developing a long-term, loyal relationship. And, that’s why retail has to let go of omnichannel.

Shoppers no longer navigate a channel in a straight line before bouncing to another. Rather, today’s new shopper journeys in a free-flowing slalom across, around, through and over a variety of key touchpoints. 

Retailers shouldn’t make the mistake of forcing their shoppers to fit into their old and dated omnichannel paradigm – it’s the equivalent of forcing a round peg into a square hole. Rather, retailers should focus the restructuring of their businesses, and as a result their shopping experiences, to better fit the shopping journeys their shoppers have already adopted.

Of course, the reinvention of retail is so much more than the changing a singular word, but changing that word is first step in changing an industry mindset. To borrow from James Carville and pop culture, “it’s the ‘shopper,’ stupid,” and a shopper-in focus on shopping and the customer experience, as opposed the more frequent retailer-out approach, is always better for business.

Omnichannel? Should it stay or should it go? Weigh in with your thoughts on Twitter @RayHartjen & @RetailNext, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/retailnext.