Opinion

If there’s one constant in business, it’s the buzzword—and walking the floor at Retail’s Big Show, NRF, in New York City the past few days, that constant has never been clearer. It seems as though every booth has the words “cloud,” “end-to-end,” “accelerate,” and the usual nonsense of “pushing the envelope” and “reversing the paradigm”—whatever they’re supposed to mean. But still, the funniest of this year’s show has to be the term, “omni-channel.”

As I pushed my way through the crowd, the noise, and the stadium-like lighting from booths that have more square footage than most people’s houses, the same word was prominent in almost every booth: omni-channel. However, the almost comical part were those companies that have nothing to do with the world of omni-channel, but they still had the moniker front and center as if to say, “us too.”

Companies that sell ERPs to copiers, cash terminal printers, and more, have all apparently jumped into the omni-channel game. Hell, even a company with their own version of layout and design software had omni-channel plastered all over its booth.

However, with all this chatter and loose interpretation of the term, what does this mean for most retailers here at NRF 2018? It means a whole lot of confusion and potentially leaving the show with an even more clouded interpretation of omni-channel than before the event.

In speaking with attendees at dinner last night, the most common thread of every conversation was the definition of omni-channel. For most, it was unclear what omni-channel is and if they needed it even after being told they did.

So, to help everyone truly understand what omni-channel is, here is a really simple definition: Omni-channel is the data-driven ability to seamlessly connect online, in-app, and in-store customer experience to create a highly personalized and unique engagement.  Pretty simple? Not so fast.

For many retailers, the issue first and foremost stems from data challenges. It’s the idea of having one single record for every single customer—what we call single-user-profile information—which is the lifeblood of omni-channel. Ensuring that one platform is fully integrated and interconnected to all possible data points within a retailer’s organization and is able to seamlessly leverage single-user-profile information, is what drives the omni-channel experience, leading to its ultimate success.

However, with all of that said, many retailers have been telling us that they have been offered everything from apps, to point-solution modules, to “consulting services,” and more, with no clear path to the end goal: better customer engagement.

The moral of this story? Don’t be fooled by buzzwords and promises of “reversing envelopes in a viral paradigm”—it’s all bullshit. Instead, look for a company that has decades of data experience with the biggest companies in the world, one that does nothing but omni-channel engagement. It will save you time, money, headaches, and the stress of trying to figure out what in the hell a “viral paradigm” does. Seriously … does anyone know?