Stop Saying "Multi-Channel!"

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.


It's happening again, you know. Social media apps have been thrown up there by marketing, because its all about the brand, Expect IT to be cleaning up next year,

Posted by Paula Rosenblum on December 27, 2010 at 11:00 AM PST #

Paula, yep I see it all the time.

Posted by David Dorf on December 27, 2010 at 10:16 PM PST #

But was this not the core of MDM? If a retailer has an MDM strategy in place, moving on to multi or omni-retailing should be a natural extension. If they don't have one, maybe it is time to invest in MDM now than regret after building disjoint applications.

Posted by Shankar Viswanathan on December 28, 2010 at 01:52 PM PST #

Agreed, Shankar.

Posted by David on December 28, 2010 at 10:24 PM PST #

Could we eliminate the "channels" from this vocabulary, David, and focus instead on touchpoints? I proposed a similar thesis in my e-letter VStoreNews in 2000, which attempted to coin the alternative term, "Broadband Merchants."

In the end, for each shopper there will be various points of interaction with the retail brand. Depending upon need states (timing, price, service, etc.) each shopper will synthesize his or her best purchasing solution in each moment.

To prevail, retailers must widen their approaches to enable the full spectrum of interactions desired by shoppers. A common - dare I say enterprise? - foundation will serve this far better than separate, parallel channels.

Posted by James Tenser on March 22, 2011 at 02:17 AM PDT #

James, I agree that "touchpoints" is a better term these days, but may take me a while to full purge "channels" from my vocabulary.

Posted by David on March 22, 2011 at 08:31 PM PDT #

While you're at it stop saying omnichannel too. It's ridiculous.

Posted by guest on May 12, 2015 at 11:15 AM PDT #

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