Report from NRF: Omnichannel is Omnipresent

Jan. 16, 2014

target-security With 30,000 attendees and more than 500 exhibitors, the National Retail Federation’s 103rd annual Big Show in New York City this week was the perfect place to find out what matters to retailers right now. And the word on everyone’s lips: omnichannel. E-commerce and m-commerce took their places next to traditional brick-and-mortar in New York over the past four days as panelist after panelist acknowledged the importance of bringing products to customers in exactly the ways they want.

With unanimity on the subject no longer in question, the debate turned to what to call it. Clearly, fatigue with the name (which morphed from multichannel only a few years ago) is rampant. During an all-CIO panel on emerging technology trends, Allan Smith of lululemon said they have banned use of the term at the yoga-apparel manufacturer’s headquarters, opting instead for “one-customer.” Keeping with the singular theme, Tom Scott, head of business solutions for U.K.-based home improvement retail group Kingfisher wondered from stage, given the convergence it implied, why it wasn’t called “one-channel.”

But the week’s most memorable exchange on the subject was between Jeff Roster, research vice president at Gartner; Greg Buzek, founder and president of IHL Consulting; and Steve Methvin, vice president of e-commerce and retail technology at Bozzuto’s. Roster said he no longer used the word omnichannel.

“If you have to call it something, maybe channel agnostic is best,” he said.

Later on in the panel, Buzek played off Roster’s choice asking: “What did Jeff call it? Channel obnoxious?” and Methvin followed up with “maybe we should call it channel omnoxious to describe the process of doing all channels poorly.”

One-liners aside, the mini-furor over the appellation indicates retailers understand that it’s not about the channel, it’s about how the customer wants to engage.