Stop Saying "Multi-Channel!"
By David Dorf on Dec 27, 2010
I keep hearing the term "multi-channel" in our industry, but its time to move on. It kinda reminds me of the term "ECR" or electronic cash register. Long ago ECR was a leading-edge term, but nowadays its rarely used because its table-stakes. After all, what cash register today isn't electronic? The same logic applies to multi-channel, at least when we're talking about tier-1 and tier-2 retailers. If you're still talking about multi-channel retailing, you're in big trouble.
Some have switched over to the term "cross-channel," and that's a step in the right direction but still falls short. Its kinda like saying, "I upgraded my ECR to accept debit cards!" Yawn. Who hasn't? Today's retailers need to focus on omni-channel, which I first heard from my friends over at RSR but was originally coined at IDC.
First retailers added e-commerce to their store and catalog channels yielding multi-channel retailing. Consumers could use the channel that worked best for them. Then some consumers wanted to combine channels with features like buy-on-the-Web, pickup-in-the-store. Thus began the cross-channel initiatives to breakdown the silos and enable the channels to communicate with each other.
But the multi-channel architecture is full of duplication that thwarts efforts of providing a consistent experience. Each has its own cart, its own pricing, and often its own CRM. This was an outcrop of trying to bring the independent channels to market quickly. Rather than reusing and rebuilding existing components to meet the new demands, silos were created that continue to exist today.
Today's consumers want omni-channel retailing. They want to interact with brands in a consistent manner that is channel transparent, yet optimized for that particular interaction. The diagram below, from the soon-to-be-released NRF Mobile Blueprint v2, shows this progression.
For retailers to provide an omni-channel experience, there needs to be one logical representation of products, prices, promotions, and customers across all channels. The only thing that varies is the presentation of the content based on the delivery mechanism (e.g. shelf labels, mobile phone, web site, print, etc.) and often these mechanisms can be combined in various ways.
I'm looking forward to the day in which I can use my phone to scan QR-codes in a catalog to create a shopping cart of items. Then do some further research on the retailer's Web site and be told about related items that might interest me. Be able to easily solicit opinions and reviews from social sites, and finally enter the store to pickup my items, knowing that any applicable coupons have been applied. In this scenario, I the consumer are dealing with a single brand that is aware of me and my needs throughout the entire transaction. Nirvana.