Who Does Omnichannel Best? (Part 1)

I’m often asked which retailers are exemplars in X. Most recently, some smart people on Twitter flattered me when they asked whom I think is best at omnichannel retailing, which is what inspired this series. I prefer the term “multichannel”, only in part because I grew up at Nordstrom, which humbly (more on that below) refers to their strategy this way. 

Why do I prefer “multi” to “omni”? Well, rather than obscure his ambitions in Greek, Hudson’s Bay Company CEO Jerry Storch reminds audiences that omnichannel means “all-channel”. In addition to being plainspeak, “all” is visual. This makes me think: Can a company legitimately insist “ALL” is its channel strategy? I’m not picking on HBC, as omni-talk is everywhere. But aspiring to an all-channel business should raise more questions than answers for any retailer.

  1. What’s a channel? When multi/omni talk first started, its implicit objective was to grow e-commerce in addition to store sales. More recently, mobile has been discussed as a channel (though, I think mobile will be folded back into e-commerce - if not take over today’s discussion of e-commerce - as it grows). Are social platforms (especially Instagram and Pinterest) their own channels? What about native, shoppable content hosted beyond a brand’s own site?
  2. Is it enough to create a distinctive experience in various channels? Or are we really talking about cross-channel integration?
  3. How do we account for newer, less-penetrated channels? For example, if a retailer isn’t delivering through the Postmates of the world, is it missing a channel? And Saks Save Me and Boon + Gable are making one’s home a commerce channel, but most otherwise-stellar retailers don’t (yet) play here.
  4. Given that many of the “channels” I’ve mentioned above didn’t exist until recently, how will we think about playing in the channels whose invention we can’t yet anticipate?


Regardless of the answers above, I like Nordstrom’s use of “multichannel” and think it accurately reflects their - and many retailers’ - achievements. More to come on whom I see excelling in multiple channels. Just not the elusive “all” of them.