The concept of “electronic commerce” is not a 21st century buzzword as many might assume. Online shopping, in its most primitive form, traces its root back to 1979 when Michael Aldrich invented Videotex. But the actual realization that businesses can thrive without the need of an analog store didn’t dawn upon the majority until e-retailers like Amazon started to dominate the market. While most of the traditional retailers adjusted sails and joined the “multi-channel interface” bandwagon, they found it harder than ever to woo their customers who had (directly or indirectly) experienced the seamless and holistic approach of “Omnichannel retail”.

In a study conducted by Google, it was reported that 2 of the 3 shoppers didn’t find the information they sought within the store and 43% of them left the place frustrated. On the other hand, Deloitte’s 2014 annual holiday survey made some strong cases for the businesses about how often does an average customer use a digital device in making his/her shopping decisions. It found out that

  • 50% of customers’ in-store purchases were influenced by digital devices.
  • 68% of the respondents preferred to webroom (Researching a product online and then buying it in a physical store) than going to a showroom directly.
  • Among the respondents, 72% of the smartphone owners and 69% of tablet owners reported that they would use those devices to browse and/or buy.

These buying patterns clearly indicate how intertwined the technology is with our lives; how this retail revolution, powered by the information-hungry Internet, has pushed the customers into the center of the business and brought about “retail democracy”. The reality brings us to some pressing questions- What is an Omnichannel interface and how is it more effective than the multi-channel models in the market? The answers begin with the understanding of this phenomenon and its difference between the multi and cross-channel strategies.

Omnichannel interfacing, as a solution, offers the best of both the worlds. While multi-channel interfaces ensure that there are different channels for the customers to approach a brand and cross-channel offers integration of those channels in a streamlined fashion, they do not facilitate the customers with the ability to parallel-process information across the channels, even brands, on the go. Omnichannel retail’s customer-centric approach allows the companies to harness their technologies and the knowledge from “big data” in understanding people’s shopping patterns better, leading them towards an open and well-informed choice through their personal devices and thus offering a wholesome experience.

The early birds to the Omnichannel arena have already started to separate themselves from the pack with impeccable customer service and enriched process efficiency. Oasis, a leading U.K. fashion retailer, is one such brand that upped its game by creating a better system to manage between their products. Their store has sales persons supplied with iPads that can ease the entire shopping experience for the customers and can also help them locate, order and deliver the out-of-stock items in a breeze.

Omnichannel system, while making the customers the nuclei, powers the process with the help of technologies that can effortlessly gather, process and translate the information to the retailers.  From geo-location tools to analyze the shopping history of the customers, micro-location technologies (like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices), NFC devices to aid customers in store and  intelligent systems to manage between retail outlets and inventories, an Omnichannel interface promises orderliness to the chaos of raw user-data. This system also supports smaller retailers as they can effectively perform all these operations through SaaS and cloud based solutions.

While some multi-channel experts like Rob McGrorty are critical of Omnichannel retail and dismiss the complete implementation of this idea as “utopia” and intrusive marketing, in reality, the digitalization of businesses is making them march exactly towards the end goals of Omnichannel retailing. Omnichannel retail, in its full glory, is every retailer’s dream and customer’s craving. The responsibility to harvest this knowledge in ethical and transparent means lies in the hands of the retailers to truly create an enduring name for their brands among the masses.