Wednesday, July 10, 2013


There has been so much talk of omni-channel retail, but what does it really mean? The idea behind omni-channel is simple and makes sense. Basically, the idea is a seamless experience for your brand’s customer. For example, if you are an Apple customer and you see an iPad online, you will be able to shop that same product at the same price wherever iPads are sold. You would find the same model and price from Apple branded retail stores to Best Buy to any other retailer who carries Apple.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been frustrated as a customer by price and product differences in channels. Sometimes I see something online, but I’d like to check it out in person before purchasing and I can’t find it in stores. Often it’s worse when I see an item in a store, and decide to purchase later online. For me, this mainly happens when I am traveling.  I was visiting a large city and saw a great pair of boots that first, I did not want to lug around the city, and second, would not fit in my luggage. I made a note and attempted to order online later.  No luck. I was disappointed and that brand lost a sale.

Omni-channel was conceived to prevent that frustration and increase profitability. It’s a simple and easy idea that takes some serious time and financial investment to implement. Most companies think if they use the words omni-channel and rearrange their staffs, they are an omni-channel brand. That is simply not the case. First, you can have one merchant and planning team responsible for multiple channels, but often times there will be a General Manager (GM) or Business head with P&L accountability for each separate channel. One GM determines they need to run a sale and the other is selling well at full price, so they do what is best for their channel. That’s not omni-channel. Since companies have been focused on individual channel growth for so long, systems have been implemented to support that. For example, a retailer who has their own stores and ecommerce site often manages separate inventories for each channel. Combining inventory sounds easy until you face the IT hurdles. Sharing inventory, creating the same assortment or controlling pricing becomes even more difficult for a company that sells wholesale, retail and ecommerce. It’s not even legal to impose restrictions like that on a wholesale partner unless perhaps you work on a consignment model.

So what is the future of omni-channel? I do not know. I think the idea is amazing, but a company will need to commit more than just words in order to make it happen. Companies who have made this leap in a serious way are reaping the rewards; just look at Nordstrom.

What do you think of omni-channel retailing? Where have you seen it succeed? If you have seen failure, what was the cause? Would omni-channel retailing be right for your business? What would you need to do to ensure its success?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

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