Why Omnichannel is So Hot Right Now

Updated on August 18, 2017

If you’re a digital marketer, you’ve likely seen and heard a lot about omnichannel recently. But what is it, and what’s all the buzz about?

Let’s start with a literal breakdown. Omnis is Latin for “all.” Channels are the means of interaction between retailers and shoppers. Thus, omnichannel is the blurring of the lines between the brick-and-mortar and screen-to-screen worlds. Across all channels — tablets, storefronts, desktops, emails, call centers, smartphone applications, and even smart TVs — omnichannel businesses strive for omnipresence, providing customers with an integrated, seamless shopping experience.

The term “omnichannel” was first coined by the Harvard Business Review in 2011, replacing what had previously been referred to as “multi-channel” or “cross-channel”. Over 5 years later, it’s become one of the hottest buzzwords in retail. Here are three reasons why:

  1. It’s symbiotic with today’s cross-channel shopping habits.

How often have you been in a store, looked at an item, and then thought, I wonder what other options are available online?

It’s 2017, and shopping habits are complicated. Consumers are now omnishoppers, omnivores of retail. You might buy an item on a mobile device while standing in a competitor’s brick-and-mortar store. Maybe you’ll browse the shopping mall for shoes before purchasing a pair via tablet right before bed. Or maybe you’ll research a product on a laptop at home, spend a day mulling it over, and then, on a whim out running errands, swing by a storefront to pick it up.

According to a recent survey by BigCommerce.com, 67% of millennials and 56 % of Gen Xers prefer to search and purchase online. And according to Forrester, $1.5 trillion in retail sales begin online and end in-store.

Shoppers aren’t loyal to particular channels or companies anymore, with many shoppers switching from mobile to tablet to storefront all while making the same purchase. In today’s market, to earn loyalty, retailers must focus more on the customer experience than ever before.

  1. It’s the savior of brick-and-mortar businesses.

Omnichannel is keeping brick-and-mortar real estate relevant in innovative ways — as showrooms for digital sales and shipping centers for online orders — allowing forward-thinking retailers to brand themselves as places where shopping can be fun, interactive, and social. What’s more fun: ordering a blouse online, or trying on a blouse at Neiman Marcus in one of their “Magic Mirrors” — a mirror that snaps 360-degree photos of you in that blouse and allows you to compare it side-by-side with other wardrobe options, or share the images to social media for real-time feedback.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that ecommerce-focused mass merchants face some disadvantages when compared to retailers with more balanced omnichannel offerings.

  1. It’s the new frontier for successful branding.

Omnichannel has been around for a while now, almost as long as ecommerce. But new technologies and growing consumer expectations are what makes omnichannel a moving target. Some of the biggest companies in the world are taking bold risks (and making big investments) to develop smooth channel integrations and great customer experiences. Whether it’s virtual mirrors that encourage fun social media shares or technology that relieves shoppers from the pain of long checkout lines, today’s consumers are connecting their omnichannel experiences with the likeability of the brands themselves.

More innovations are popping up everyday, and the most successful companies will continue to provide seamless customer satisfaction across touchpoints. No one knows exactly what’s in store for the future, but it’s clear that omnichannel is here to stay.

Want more? Check out our interactive eBook, The Smart Marketer’s Guide to Omnichannel.

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