Once upon a time, when this country was known for being a nation of shopkeepers, life was simple. We went to the shops and we shopped. Then, at a point in time probably none of us can now recall, with the birth of the internet and transactional websites, shopping went all multi-channel. Did anyone really understand what that meant?
But whilst we were still grappling with that, some bright spark coined the term ‘omni-channel’ – for me perhaps the most abused, misunderstood and, let’s face it, downright confusing term ever used within the retail lexicon.
Omni – all, of all things – from the Latin omnis. Seemed therefore to be a good idea to plant it in front of channel and hey presto! But there’s a snag; no-one really knows what it actually means.
If you don’t believe me, try asking a friend or colleague to explain it and you’ll get my point. Likely you’ll either get a blank look or any number of different and wildly varying descriptions of this singularly misguided term.
At this point I should declare my hand.
Retail in today’s world is complex and scary enough. The challenges and demands placed on retailers by consumers are terrifying and are only likely to get far more acute. Add to that the twin forces of Brexit and Trump (both at the time of writing yet to be properly realised) and you create a landscape which is both uncertain and constantly shifting. And then we in the industry seek to complicate it further.
From this day forth my personal crusade is to rid retail of the term ‘omni-channel’ – after all, it’s just shopping isn’t it?
Many of us will be familiar with the corner shop as epitomised in Open All Hours with Ronnie Barker as the irascible Arkwright.
In those days we didn’t think in terms of ‘channels’; we shopped at the local store for our groceries, it was a social activity as well as being essential and to make things even better, our preferences were intimately understood by the Arkwrights of this world. Simple, straightforward.
We went to the shops to do our shopping.
And then the internet was borne, we started going online, transactional websites sprung up. Then in January 2007 perhaps the most significant event to ultimately impact retail occurred at the MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco. Steve Jobs got up on stage and introduced the first iPhone. And the world changed forever.
According to Google, in 2015 the number of mobile internet searches overtook desktop – mobile is now the primary channel for retailers and hence the way we shop has fundamentally changed.
To illustrate, let’s take a typical example.
You’re looking forward to your skiing holiday in a few weeks time and whilst on the train going home browse online using your smartphone as you need a new ski jacket. You get home and after dinner decide to take another look but this time on your laptop – you’re serious about making a purchase but need to see larger images, maybe get a clearer overall picture of what it is you’re looking at. But this jacket is over £100 and for that money you really need to see it, feel it and try it on. So, the following day you visit the store to check it out and end up making a purchase.
At any time during that process did you consciously think about customer journey? Different channels? No, you were shopping. But in doing so you wanted something which was easy and convenient and made your life better in some way.
And there’s the thing – ease and convenience are the key. Our shopping experience, regardless of how we choose to approach it, in whichever order (which by the way is less and less likely to be predictable) is the most important consideration.
So, whilst many retailers still wrestle with how to attribute sales, organising themselves internally to reflect channels, the smart ones have realised that at the heart, it is all shopping regardless.
And the real point of all this? Those same retailers have also understood that in the same way as not having multiple channels, they do not have multiple brands. They have one brand which means one consistent customer engagement – joining the dots in order to engage with the customer in a relevant, engaging, contextual manner.
But that’s a whole different story for another time……..
Andrew Busby is founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board and an IBM Futurist. He is also a regular contributor to Retail Week and one of the UK’s most influential retail analysts.