Mike Cassidy

May 29, 2014

Omnichannel is not a word; please stop saying it

Omnichannel is a horrible word. And some retail experts would say it's not even a good way to think.

Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop.

Please.

Google the word “omnichannel” and you’ll find yourself staring at 2.13 million results, which is 2.13 million too many. Let’s kill the word now. I’m not one of those word scolds. I’ve got no quarrel with omnibus, omnivore, omnificent, omnidirectional or even omnicompetent. Omnipotent and omniscient are fine -- lofty even. But ever since my journey into the e-commerce world, the word omnichannel has been driving me crazy.

Wait. I call it a word, but it isn’t one, so please stop saying it. You see it everywhere because everybody in the retail game wants to achieve it. Never mind that by definition, omnichannel is likely beyond the grasp of mere mortals. In retail, the word refers to reaching consumers in and on all channels -- on the Web, on mobile, in-store, by phone, email, text -- and doing so in a way that is seamless for customers.

If “multi-channel” was good, “omnichannel” is apparently better.

Omni: Maybe OK for a car name. But omnichannel?

But, let’s consider the so-called word itself -- or at least its prefix. “Omni (prefix) -- all, of all things; in all ways or places.”

Look, I’m all for stretch goals and all that, but omni strikes me as a pretty tall order. Not to get all philosophical on you, but if retailers are going to strive to be “of all things,” or even “in all places,” then they must realize that there could well be things and places that have yet to be discovered -- or even created.

My effort to uncover who specifically is to blame for the word in the first place was unsuccessful. But John Ryan, writing for London-based Retail Week, suggests we might as well blame Amazon -- at least indirectly.

“Little wonder then,” Ryan writes of traditional retailers aspiring to be omnichannel, “that they are anxious to move with the times, having observed the creeping colonization of their territory by the likes of Amazon.”

All of which is bad enough, but maybe the biggest problem is just how weird omnichannel is as a wannabe word. Omnichannel sounds like a place you should go to see a movie or a concert. It sounds like a TV network owned by Ted Turner, Donald Trump or some other mogul who suffers no lack of self-esteem.

Yes, the word is getting a lot of traction, but I experienced a glimmer of hope recently. At the Gartner Customer 360 Summit 2014, Gartner analyst Chris Fletcher said during a discussion among e-commerce types that he and his colleagues frown upon the phrase.

“What we want to do is get away from the mentality that there are different channels,” he said.

The point being: No matter how you’re communicating with customers, it’s all one effort.

And in fact, of the 110 or so presentations at the summit, the word appeared in a title only once. (Actually, the title included the word “omnichanneled,” which is a whole new level of bad.)

Chaitanya Bhatt, an IT manager from Canadian retail giant Loblaw, said during Fletcher’s session that “omnichannel" was verbum non gratum at his company, too.

“Omnichannel is a tainted catch phrase,” he said.

Yes! Why come up with a separate, and somewhat inelegant, word for something that everyone should be doing anyway?

“Total Retail” is what Loblaw is going with. And “Total Recall” issues aside, the phrase is crisp, descriptive and sounds like something a human would actually say.

Total Retail? I say, totally cool.

Photo of Omni ad by Alden Jewell and omni words by Jeroen Mirck published under Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com and follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.