23 Feb “Omni-Channel” really means “Omni-Me”
For many years now, we’ve talked about “omni-channel” sales as if it were a fixed thing, though its definition is dynamic and ever-evolving. During the time that we’ve been using the phrase “omni-channel,” the actual meaning has flipped on its head.
Today, “omni-channel” has become “omni-me.”
The “omni” part of “omni-channel” increases in influence daily. For a long time now consumers have been able to buy what they want, when they want it, wherever they are, exactly where they last left off in their decision-making process. This is the “omni” part, the ubiquitous, ever-present, always-everywhere, get-it-at-any-time-of-the-day-or-night reality of modern times.
It’s the “channel” part that needs rethinking. Many of us are conditioned to think of “channel” as in broadcasting, in three or four distinct channels: Brick-and-mortar, an e-commerce site, social media, and then perhaps direct mail or a catalog. But people no longer buy things from distinct channels. Now, most consumers buy from a continuum that’s more akin to how Netflix works.
Once upon a time, we picked what we wanted to watch on TV by flipping the dial until we found something interesting. We shopped in a similar way, going from store to store to find what we wanted. If we didn’t like our choices, our only alternative was to choose another channel, or go to a different store. About the time that many outdoor specialty stores first opened their doors, there were just five TV channels: ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and whatever was on UHF. We watched what they scheduled, and if we missed it we waited a year or longer for the re-runs. Similarly, if stores didn’t have what we wanted we simply bought something else, or went elsewhere.
Today, people start a movie or a TV show on their big-screen, take it to bed on their tablet, and finish it on their smart-phone the next morning, all without missing a single scene. Similarly, if we go to a store and it doesn’t have what we want, we simply buy it somewhere else, most often right then and there from whatever device we have within reach.
As long as we’re trying to reach customers one channel at a time, we risk becoming the lonely, earnest public-access talk show host on UHF, hoping that somebody is watching…
Collectively, we need to stop thinking of the shopping experience as something linear, because our customers long ago abandoned our check-out lines. While we try to get consumers to tune into our channels, they want to buy from within a sphere that’s defined by their arm’s reach. That sphere is a place called “Me.”
The challenge for retailers now is to put more attention on “omni,” and less on “channel.” This focus puts all of our attention on our own “me”: Our brands, our systems, and our businesses. Nothing else matters.
What does matter? The information systems that we use at specialty, that’s what matters. The big guys have access to – literally – all the information in the world about their customers. This data is also available to specialty retail, but we are not fully leveraging it. At New Normal Consulting, we recently completed a research project on point-of-sale systems. (We’ll be publishing a white paper on this, soon.) Among our findings were some surprises:
- Only 32% of retailers have POS systems that support e-commerce.
- Just 21% have POS systems that can be used on tablets.
- Over a third (39%) don’t have access to their inventory in real time.
- Very few outdoor specialty retailers work with virtualized inventory.
The New Normal View is that the landscape needs to change dramatically. We’ll go more into what this means in subsequent posts. In the mean time, what are some of the ways that you have experienced this Omni-Me shift, as both a consumer and a retailer? Send us a note, we would love to hear from you.
Many thanks to Becca Skinner for the one-time use of her copyrighted image. Learn more about the photographers who graciously provide us with images to use on this website by going to Meet Our Photographers.