Comment: What does omnichannel really mean?

The retail industry is driven by revenue and growth figures on the one hand, by intangibles like individual style and consumer confidence on the other. How much importance can it attach to words like 'omnichannel retail' – especially when they are shared by so many others?   

By now it's well recognised by retailers that omni is the way forward – the main challenge being to make it deliver results in the short term, while keeping agile enough to adapt to developments beyond the horizon. Developments in technology obviously, but most of all changes in people – the products and services they want and need, the ways they want to get them, and the kind of businesses they want to deal with. Plus – what can they afford to spend?

Retailers of any significance are dedicated to doing all this, as the core of their business. A major hurdle has been for their leaders to drive the integrated approach within the business, bringing their own people and resources together in a coherent whole. For the future, retailers need to ensure that their business constantly adapts to change. However, the term omnichannel is arguably a contradiction in terms (an oxymoron), since by definition the term omni means all and represents, in retailing, a fusion of all channels. Consequently it cannot really be a single 'omnichannel' but perhaps just more simply, omni retailing.

In the real world, businesses throughout the retail supply network face genuine issues, both individual and shared. Among the issues of continuing interest and concern to our associates in IORMA are:

Those are issues of genuine importance, and they are well suited not only to research and analysis, but to exchange of perspectives and experience. For those keen on terminology, my thought is to shift your view of omni from 'must be everything' to 'could be anything'. A retailer selects the channels it wants to use: it invests in technologies that can grow to meet its own and its customers' changing needs. It makes them work together in ways that reinforce its customers' experience and its own brand identity. And the time that it spends in debate is devoted not to semantics, but to genuine business issues.

Barbara Walker is director, innovation and government relations at IORMA.

IORMA is a new innovative membership group for those who have an interest and/or involvement in the global omni-retailing industry and its future, and will be providing a regular column for Essential Retail over the coming months.

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