Cross-channel, Omni-channel, Any-channel: Maybe It’s Time to Let Them Go

July 9, 2013

Paula Rosenblum

As many of you know, I’ve started a little side gig blogging for Forbes.com. This has proven just a little challenging, as I have to adjust my writing style and topic choices to suit a more general audience. I can’t assume they’re tech people, and I can’t assume they’re retailers either. And while I’m very aware when I’m lapsing into “geek,” it turns out I’m far less conscious of retailer insider terms and notions.

My plan this week was to write a piece about cross-channel retailing. I thought I was being clever by avoiding “The O Word,” or “Omni-channel.” A friend had gone to a major retailer web site to buy patio cushions and was surprised that not every item was flagged with a “check store inventory” button. Some were and some weren’t. I was reminded of our recent Cross-channel benchmark report, in which 80% of retail respondents report inventory visibility across all channels to be very important and another 16% report it at least somewhat important. Yet 54% of those same respondents report a lack of visibility is a significant organizational inhibitor to getting more “omni”. So I thought I was onto something and the Forbes reader might want to know. This stuff is hard!

Well, I went to brunch with another friend on Sunday and was talking about the new blog. I said “Oh, this one is going to be on cross-channel retailing.”  Her reply? “What’s that? Oops. This is a long-time friend, who knows what I do, and who helped me rehearse for a job interview at what became my first analyst gig, with AMR Research. Back then, we went through a Powerpoint deck I later delivered on why I thought Linux was going to win the POS operating systems wars. Luckily, I got the job even with a bad prediction (Thank you, and Rest in Peace John Fontanella!). And she was able to grasp those concepts well enough, so it’s not like she’s not a quick study.

This really got me thinking, and here are some conclusions I’ve drawn.

  • The consumer really doesn’t care about our problems. She expects consistency, not a science project when she wants to go shopping. While I’m empathetic about lack of clarity on specific skus, we’re probably better served not showing ANY in-store inventory in a particular category if we can’t show ALL item in-store inventory (or at least a “call to check” note). We don’t get any credit for showing “some numbers” since they may not be the numbers the customer wants.
  • The shopper really doesn’t think about channels at all. There’s been a lot of “in-house” debate about that both between the RSR partners and between the partners and our clients. But that one line from my friend Joyce told the tale. “What IS cross-channel retailing?” Oops.
  • I think the “treasure hunt” metaphor is getting tired. The argument used by retailers who differentiate on-line from in-store inventory is that it’s a customer “treasure hunt”, and customers like it. I’m not buying it anymore. Treasure-hunting is a hobby and consumers don’t have time to play. If H&M can afford to show their products on-line, so can any retailer (grocers excluded). I’ll guarantee very few have lower price points.

So, for the purpose of general conversation, I’m retiring terms like cross-channel, omni-channel, any channel, converged channel and any other term that customers won’t understand. We’re retailers. We sell stuff. And we’ll have it wherever and whenever you want to buy it. That’s what retailers do. Shopper expectations are high… we’ll have to meet them.

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