Omni-channel, multi-channel and cross-channel – buzzords of 2016

Let’s state with Omni-Channel or Omni-Commerce. Omni is – according to www.dictionary.com – “a combining form meaning “all,””, or in other words, all channels. The word is used, in its purest and (I believe) its most correct form about a sale experience which allows customers a smooth shopping experience across platforms and across physical stores, call- centers, a purchase on the shop’s website and where the consumer might be present. A simple search on Google gives 17.2 million results and if you start from the top, the confusion will be close to total. To argue that one’s business is Omni-Channel is relatively easy, but there are hardly many who have a true Omni-channel solution implemented. I can really only think of Apple and their approach to sale. I would argue that their solution is true “Omni-Channel” as the customer experiences access to purchase no matter where they are and data is shared, so an sales person in an Apple store knows what I’ve browsed and purchased on Apple website. I’ll be recognized via my iPhone and can retrieve data on my newest purchase on my iPad just by logging in. Of course, my credit card details are stored and can be used seamless across the channels as well. However, Omni-Channel must be considered as the ultimate target and something to strive for, more than anything achievable without a wealth of resources.

Multi-cannel simply means that you sell goods via multiple channels, but that they do not (necessarily) work together and in some cases may be assumed to compete with each other. There is a common brand, but typically separate management of the different channels. There are probably only a few companies that will claim that multi-channel is the end station for their ambitions with their business, but it is reality where most businesses are today – with an ambition of an omni-channel solution.

Cross-channel is the “middle ground” between omni-channel and multi-channel, in that there are still separate channels, maybe different distribution centers, etc., but there is cooperation across the channels and it is quite normal that a customer can buy an item online and then return it to a store. Marketing is being created to support all channels and, for example, have a purchase in a physical business trigger a coupon that can be used on the internet.

SO – is it important to know these concepts?

I would think that the answer is yes and at the same time it is important that you know the differences. This way you are able to allign expectations and “see through” the wrong use of one of the words.

In my view, it’s most important to see the possibilities as well as limitations and then create a realistic strategy and goal for where you want to be. With a 1992 IT system and a number of physical stores where the cash register and payment terminal are not integrated it will take heavy investments to become an omni-channel company. But maybe it’s OK to aim for a cross-channel solution and then see omni-channel as a reality that can be realized in the long run and that can be used as a “guiding star” when IT solutions are being reviewed?

The trend and something you hear over and over again at conferences is “the customer at the center”, “the blue-dot generation”,”the customer will buy whenever they want and in the way they want at that time” and if you know a little about the younger generation there is no doubt, that as a business you have to be present (on the favorite socia media?) just when a need arises otherwise you will simply be forgotten. But there is still pool of potential costumers both in Denmark and abroad who are able to find your business,  even if you are not on Facebook and have a mobile-optimized website. Omni-Channel is the future, no doubt about it and if the word is not somewhere on your strategy you are likely to loose market shares in the long run. But right here and now, omni-channel is a buzz word that everyone talks about, few understands correctly  and  even fewer managed to implement successfully.