Omni-channel Is Dead

The reigning buzzword champion – omni-channel – is dead. There, I said it. Someone had to.

It’s dead before it really got a chance to live and we’re all better for it. What is omni-channel? It’s an unrealistic goal. It’s not a consumer path or form of engagement. Consumers don’t shop omni-channel. They simply shop. What they do want, however, is a singular view of each retailer based on what matters to them. But, we’ll get to that later. Why is omni-channel dead? Because it’s not something you do. It’s something you achieve. Over time. A long time. Trying to build an omni-channel experience for consumers is akin to trying to finish the roof at the same time you’re pouring the foundation of a home. In other words, like building a house, building a seamless consumer experience requires a solid foundation, framing and exquisite finishing. All of which occur over time. Even the folks at Extreme Makeover Home Edition don’t build the entire house at the same time. They start with a blueprint (a plan), then pour a foundation, and then go about building the rest of the home in a strategic fashion that results in a home. In order to achieve a true omni-channel experience, you need to do the same.

It’s the consumer stupid

The folks at Forrester have it right. This is the “age of the consumer.” What does that mean? It means forget about mobile-first or omni-channel or anything that doesn’t focus on the consumer first. There’s a little company called Amazon that has built a nifty little business by starting with the consumer and working backward. It’s how we got 1-click buying, for example. And it’s all based on a simple premise that if you provide recommendations and customize the experience based on each consumer’s personal needs, wants, desires, past-purchases and more, then they’ll spend more. Imagine if wasn’t personalized and you had to search through all of the sections to find what you were looking for. How often would you go back? Rarely. How often would you find that little something extra? Never.

As consumers, we LOVE the Amazon experience because they use data (yuck, big brother!), cookies (oh, the horror!), recommendation engines and your purchase history to personalize the experience and narrow down the millions of products to just the ones most relevant to you. Why is it, then, that the moment we walk into a physical store, we no longer expect this level of engagement and service? What is the difference? The technology exists whereby each consumer could engage with every physical store in a way that’s analogous to the Amazon experience. Don’t think that matters? Well, according to Catalina, the average consumer ignores 99.3 percent of products in a grocery store. Ignores! That means you walk by nearly 50,000 products each week that you don’t care about, don’t consume and don’t even see.

Start with the consumer and you’re building an experience. Start with “omni-channel” and you’re building an experience that’s better for you (but not the consumer).

Let’s get Phigital!

Holy buzzword, Batman! I cannot take credit for this buzzword. Brett Leary at DigitasLBI turned me on to this one. I hate buzzwords, but love the meaning of this one. It’s based on integrating the physical store experience with the digital experience. Yes! That is exactly where we should be headed. Look at what Ahold USA (parent of Stop & Shop) has done with SCAN IT! Mobile. By creating a mobile app that allows you to scan and bag your groceries as you walk through the store, receive personalize coupons based on where you are and what you like and coming soon… I hope, the ability to pay on the phone and skip the checkout line. They are creating a personalized experience in a physical store just like Amazon does online. And now, they can make some of the 99.3 percent of products we don’t even see appear right in front of our eyes… and on our smartphones.

Sears has combined online, mobile and the store through their Shop Your Way rewards app. How does it work? You complete your order online. At the end it prompts you to use the mobile app to have your item delivered right to your car within 5 minutes. Cool! So, I ordered my dehumidifier, selected “Yes I want to use in-vehicle pickup,” entered my vehicle info and headed to the store. As I got close to the store, I opened the Sears app and requested my package by delivered. Super cool. Let the countdown begin! It wasn’t quite 5 minutes, but, at 6 minutes and 15 seconds, I was thrilled with not having to get out of my car and go through the in-store pick-up process. And the very polite and apologetic employee helped me forget that they missed their target. Sears scored a big win with me on this and I repeated it shortly thereafter with another item… even though I could have saved $10 buying it from another retailer (Home Depot). The Sears pick-up experience which, previously, had been the worst part of buying something from them, was now a competitive advantage because it made MY life easier (as the consumer). By rethinking how mobile could enhance the experience, they created a win for the consumer. And that creates loyalty.

From both of these examples, these retailers can enhance their apps/experiences dynamically and ultimately, create an incredible Phigital experience. So where do you start?


We’ve all heard this, seen it in a strategy plan or even used it ourselves. Although I hate these clichés, it does have particular relevance when you’re talking about the future of retail. Too many companies have tried to finish the roof (mobile payments and mobile wallets are great examples) before they’ve even laid the foundation. The key to successful shopper-centric engagement comes from simplicity. The Sears and Stop & Shop apps are perfect examples. Starbucks loyalty and mobile payment is another. But, one of my favorites is the Dunkin’ Donuts app. They’ve integrated loyalty, mpay, coupons and the physical store through their app. And I’m certain they won’t stop there. Because of the data they have access to through their app, they can use location, both geo and beacon, to further personalize the experience. From the moment the consumer arrives all the way through payment (which could disappear into the background… similar to how you “pay” with Uber). Start with a foundation, then build from there. A very simple blueprint for Phigital retail.

When will then be now?

We talk about the “store of the future” as if it’s some magical thing that’s coming in the future. The reality is that it could all be done today. Imagine walking into a store that has no checkouts, but greets you when you arrive and immediately provides personalized recommendations through your smartphone. A store where you can ask for advice (human or digital) with a tap. Where your phone highlights where you should shop, makes dynamic recommendations and helps you save money along the way. And finally, it allows you to pay without even entering a PIN or using your fingerprint. You just walk out of the store (hopefully not like this former NBA player did at an Apple Store). It’s all totally doable today. It just takes a plan.

As asked in the movie Spaceballs, when will then be now? Soon. And the future isn’t omni-channel. It’s a cohesive consumer-first experience that connects the retailer with the consumer no matter where they are and the moment they’re ready to buy.