Is omni-channel just more spin and hype? Five lessons in retail’s latest trend

Omni-channel is the latest buzz word in retailing. But Gerry Harvey famously dismissed it as “spin and bullshit”. What does it all mean and can it help your business?

Ish Patel, group omni-channel director at Aurora Fashions, told the eCommerce Conference in Melbourne this month that omni-channel is not a business model, “instead it is a philosophy that Aurora Fashions believes in”.

Aurora owns British fashion retailers Coast, Oasis and Warehouse, with global sales of $500 million across 40 countries and 48 digital channels, and has implemented an omni-channel strategy across its business.

Patel delivered five lessons in omni-channel retailing:

1. Forget about channels

According to Patel, retailers are the ones who have created the term “channel” and consumers don’t think in terms of channels.

“Omni-channel is a mash up of digital and stores; the consumer wants both,” he says.

“The consumer does not wake up one morning and then decide I’m going to research online and then go to a store; that is the way retailers have set up their businesses. You need to apply channel blur to your organisation the way consumers do.”

2. Respond to the significant shifts in consumer behaviour

Aurora’s omni-channel strategy has been driven by what Patel refers to as a “significant shift in consumer behaviour”.

Aurora has seen an increase in the length of time spent in thinking about making a purchase and making a purchase.

The time spent on purchasing now is 111 minutes now compared to 83 minutes in 2002 while the duration of the purchase process has increased from 0.5 days to 3.4 days in the same time.

“People are spending a lot of time thinking about the product they want to purchase,” Patel says.

“What we are also seeing is that [consumers] are using multiple channels to make that decision.”

Aurora predicts because shoppers are increasingly using multiple channels to make purchasing decisions the number of bricks-and-mortar stores will fall by 31% by 2020.

But Patel says physical stores are still important.

“There is a really bright future here, it is about right sizing and what we use those stores for,” he says.

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