Lately I have faced many customer asking questions about what really means Omni-Channel.. And sometimes it takes a period of time before we can deliver the right message. Because of that, I decided to explain my understanding of each term:
Before, I want to say that all retailers interact with their customers using different channels from Warehouses, Stores, Catalogs, Websites, Mobile Apps, etc. So the challenge has been how to have a single Inventory system to all channels. Retailers do not want to loose the opportunity to sell a product through a website if the product is located in a store, warehouse or vice versa.
Thus, three different definitions have emerged to describe the evolution of how retailers sell to customers.
Multi-Channel: Generally speaking, we can say it is the first term emerged when retailers decide to sell their products through different channels. It is a retailer selling products in different channels (Internet, catalog, Stores, etc.) but using different inventory for each channel. That means if you product is not available in the retail webpage, maybe is available in the store. Here the retail has the inability to unify the inventory system and is loosing the opportunity to sell just because the the inventory systems are not integrated or unified. In fact sometimes products available in one channel are not available in other channel. That makes sometimes impossible found a product in a retail website, print the page and go to the retail store and buy it.
Cross-Channel: Cross channel is a evolution from Multi-Channel in this case customers will be able to see same products across all channels, allowing them to see a product in a website a going to the store to buy it. Or even buy a product in the website and picking up it in the store. Here retailers have different inventory for each channels but allow integration between them giving to the customer more flexibility when they buy products, but the retailer have difficult to difficult to have unified measure metrics about sells and customer patterns.
Omni-Channel: This is the new term and the evolution from Cross-Channel. Here Retailers have a single Inventory system, Product data and customer information that is used in all channels, allowing the retailer to provide a better customer experience. Here customer have access to retail inventory regardless of the store, website, warehouse or mobile apps and perform a purchase order fulfilled from whichever location is the fastest, most economical or convenient to the customer. As example for the customer just imagine to start your purchase process at home in the website retailer, select 10 items and save this purchase process and go to the store and talk with the retail employee and customer say I already selected 10 Items I want but the last two I want to touch them before to buy it. Can I add these additional items to the purchase process I already started. Answer: Yes off course you can finish you buying process at the store and you wont loose your time at home. Here is where most biggest retailer are pointing out. We can describe this as Commerce Anywhere.
I would like to point some good additional information on this Youtube video with a nice description from EMEA Logistics & industrial research Jones Lang Lasalle.
Oracle has delivery Commerce Anywhere solutions that help retailer to achieve that Omni- Channel goal