Shaken & Stirred - Influential Brand Profiling and Positioning

Guest Post : The future is Omni-channel, not Multi-channel / Scott Logie

By Scott Logie, strategic marketing director, St Ives Group

I had the pleasure recently of sitting through the filming of some key commentators in the retail space, discussing key themes around areas such the death of the weekly shop; the shopper of the future, and measurement and testing in the retail environment. Every one of the people interviewed was intelligent, well researched and an expert in the retail environment.

However, one question provided, for me, a frustrating array of answers. This was around what was understood by multi-channel or omni-channel retailing. Almost everyone either answered in the same way or made the same assumption – that these are the same thing. No they are not!

Let’s start with the genus of the words themselves. Multi as a prefix means many, as in multiple, more than one. Omni, on the other hand, means every or all. As in omnipresent, being everywhere or omnipotent, all powerful.

In the retailing, or indeed, marketing sense then multi-channel means covering more than one channel and omni-channel means covering every channel.

It is more than that though, for me this is a position of philosophy. In general, multi-channel retailers simply added other channels to the one they already had. A lot of the time these channels are added to existing media but created in isolation. The web team runs the website; oh, we’d better build an app; what are we doing in mobile?

The true purpose of omni-channel, on the other hand, is to make the media integrated into the whole offering, and create consistency and relevance and experience for the customer, irrespective of media used.

For example, it could be argued that HMV is (or was) a multi-channel retailer. There are stores, there is a website where you can purchase, with a mobile version, and a plethora of apps related to recommendations, buying and rewards. However, it didn’t succeed in creating a joined-up experience for the customer. The perception was always that the website prices were cheaper than in-store; whether that is true or not it doesn’t really matter. The listening post app was designed to create a joined-up experience while in-store but take-up was low, and buying and downloading not available. Each one was probably very good in its own right but it never felt consistent and joined up.

Apple, on the other hand, offers a consistency of experience that exists everywhere from the website to the devices to its physical stores. This philosophy starts with the brand and this is then rendered on whatever media is needed. The customer forgets, to a certain extent, what they are using and just feels that they are engaging with apple – a true omni-channel experience.

The future of retailing will be omni-channel, where the customer experience is the same or indeed enhanced as a result of multiple media being involved. For example, using mobile phones while shopping to access reviews, recommendations or even pricing. Or shopping online and collecting in-store, and using a mobile phone to check in at the store and access the item bought.

Multi-channel was great as the starting point but now, quite simply, is not enough.

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