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Omni-Channel – the new way people are buying online

9th May 2014
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We’re in the middle of a shift towards omni-channel – the latest buzzword in online commerce.

As it’s not an official term, there is perhaps some definition required. Put simply, it’s the ability for a consumer to interact with a company through multiple channels and experiences, such as their iPad, laptop, through social media or in-store, through the sales team or through customer services, and receive the same user experience from each channel. They should also be able to hop from one channel to another seamlessly. It’s more joined up than multi-channel, which only recognises the need to have an offering on different channels.

We believe that omni-channel is here to stay. Many of our clients are investing in it. According to IDC’s 2014 Retail Insights published in January 2014, IDC’s number one trend was retailers’ focus on creating omni-channel solutions. But it’s not the retailers driving this alone. Consumers are the bigger drivers of this as they interact with companies increasingly via social media, smartphones and tablets.

Despite all this activity we found just under 70 people with ‘omni-channel’ in their current job title compared with over 800 with ‘multi-channel’. No doubt this is going to change over the coming year.

So is anyone doing omni-channel at the moment? The truthful answer is ‘not really’. Most analysts look to companies like Apple and Burberry as front runners in delivering an omni-channel experience (according to But the reason that no-one is really doing omni-channel well at the moment is because the challenge of getting it right is huge. It requires significant investment in systems and process, even re-organisation within the retailers to force departments that have worked in silos to work together. It is critical for the stores and online teams, who are usually fighting over revenue, to overcome divisions.

Online retailers are therefore in a much better position to implement omni-channel solutions as they don’t have the overhead of the in-store experience to deal with.

So what is the future of omni-channel? We predict that there is still a long journey ahead before full convergence can be achieved. New channels will continue to emerge and these will

need to be integrated into the customer experience so for now it is more of a vision than an attainable target for most.

There are, however, some pragmatic approaches retailers are taking. We know from speaking to a large number of retailers that these are steps that they’re following:

1. Identify an under-served channel, such as catering for smart phone users, integration of social networking and in-store experience.
2. Build the business case for creating a multi-channel solution to the channel and prioritise opportunities. Where multi-channel in this instance means just focussing on that individual channel without worrying too much about integration with other customer experiences.
3. Buy/build/create the multi-channel solution, ensuring that it is as similar as possible to other experiences of multi-channel while ensuring that it can be upgraded, ie it is future-proof.
4. Start joining these individual islands of multi-channel solutions by linking back-end systems and process and updating the customer experiences to ensure that they are consistent across all channels.

Getting these four steps under way could begin helping that omni-channel vision become a reality.


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