Omni-channel Retailing – A revolution?

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Like Big Data, everyone in the retail game seems to be talking about what ‘omni-channel’ will bring to the game in the coming years. Leading industry pundits are even referring to the advent of omni-channel in some sectors as a revolution. The term itself has become synonymous with the aggressive change currently afoot in retail.

It’s certainly a challenging and evolutionary time for retail. We’re perhaps experiencing one of the biggest shifts in the space as online and traditional bricks and mortar retailers strive to use developments in technology to reach and communicate with customers.

Generally speaking, omni-channel refers to the creation of seamless consumer experiences through a well-integrated retail, sales or marketing customer journey. From here, definitions tend to stray as the concept is applied to specific situations and sectors. What does tie it all together is the idea that customers are now using more platforms of communications to make purchasing decisions than ever before, thus an effective omni-channel strategy will seek to support the customer’s purchase journey across of those platforms and related communication channels.

Earlier this year Myer shared its omni-channel vision. Key to their announcement was a focus on the integration of online shopping, store services and the physical collection of products from retail outlets. Around the same time, David Jones also shared some insights on its omni-channel strategy and from reports, this too focused on combining elements of online browsing with retail outlet shopping experiences.

ERP is often recognised as the backbone of many retail operations, from an integration and supply-chain perspective, omni-channel retail certainly raises challenges and opportunities for our sector.

My big question for ERP and BI specialists out there is this; Is omni-channel worthy of being associated with a ‘revolution’? I’ve spoken with many people who consider it an evolutionary stage of multi-channel under a new name, this also makes sense and is perhaps also true.

Beyond the naming, will businesses invest in the infrastructure necessary to establish an Omni-Channel ecosystem? Will they commit to the model and maintain it? We’ve seen Myer, Harvey Norman, Target and David Jones state their intentions in relation to Omni-Channel, although none to date have launched it. Is there a level of confidence that smaller retailers will be looking from our leaders prior to committing resources? Interesting times ahead indeed.

Stephen Duncan

Stephen Duncan

Stephen Duncan is a Technology Retail Specialist.

2 comments

  • Mark Schroeder

    On balance I see true omni-channel retail as an evolutionary rather than revolutionary step because it is an extension of silo-based multi-channel retail.

    The sematics of evolution vs revolution don't really matter however, what is more important is how to get there. Mark is right, system convergence is required and this is complex. As a result we are very much mid-train evolution with the best approach and outcomes as yet little known. department store vision statements don't give us much to go on!

    There are now several omni-channel operating platforms (the most recent I have looked at is Toshiba/IBM's TXcGravity PoS-based offering http://www-01.ibm.com/common/ssi/cgi-bin/ssialias?infotype=AN&subtype=CA&htmlfid=897/ENUS213-005#h2-abstrx). What we need is more real world implementation case studies, small and large.

  • Mark Vincent

    Thank you Stephen,

    This is article is an interesting conversation starter.

    The concept of omni-channel retailing may perhaps only be known as a revolution if the major retailers are visionary enough to support it and fully realise the potential. As you have identified, there are a number of them that already have begun to define this in their own terms, so it looks promising.

    Given the recent pressure that retailers have been under to compete with online competitors, it would appear an obvious response to invest in building and developing omni-channel marketing responses to leverage their physical infrastructure in the market.

    It would also mean a convergence of media providers and even eCommerce and ERP infrastructure solutions. Software platforms that are able to provide this are well placed to grow with this market direction.

    I look forward to reading more insight into this discussion as the retail sector grows to embrace this. Thank you for producing this article.

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