Omnichannel – what an Omnishambles

By Hayden Sutherland

April 2, 2013 | 3 min read

The political satire TV programme ‘The Thick Of It’ coined the word Omnishambles back in 2009. We then saw it used by real life politicians in the House of Commons, it trended on Twitter for a while (#omnishambles) and it was subsequently nominated as “Word of The Year” in 2012.

Created by the merger of two words: the Latin prefix ‘omni’-, meaning "all" and ‘shambles’ the word for a total f**king disorder… it has already crept into usage by Opposition MP’s and BBC Newsnight presenters.

But now we are in danger of a very similar word becoming popular in the online & e-commerce industries. One that sends a shiver down my spine when I hear it uttered… Omnichannel.

Once again forged by combining ‘omni’ with an obvious word, it creates a term that for retailing means: (via Wikipedia)

“a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels, i.e. mobile internet devices, computers, bricks-and-mortar, television, catalog, and so on”

So why does it get my goat so much?

  1. The inference from those that use it is that somehow Omnichannel is better than Multi-channel (I’ve even seen a job title for “Head of Omnichannel” being advertised recently)
  2. The customer experience should be seamless regardless of how many retail channels a company offers
  3. We are using yet another word for the same thing: different ways of buying stuff, such as: store, website, mobile app, etc.. However the Omnichannel consultants are already out in force, ready to tell you that Multi-channel is last year’s news and the King is dead
  4. In this modern, digitally-connected world, does a retailer need to sell through EVERY channel all the time? Really? What happened to the use of the most cost effective and relevant channels for retailing? That’s why we scaled down the use of the telephone and why a postal catalogue is a novelty (almost nobody I know is prepared to pay for a new copy of the Next Directory.)

It’s my opinion that the word "Omnichannel" has just been thrown into various online conversations and white papers by consultants just looking to distinguish themselves from others in the market merely offering ‘multi-channel'.

Still, it could be worse… I recently heard someone say in an eCommerce presentation “there is now no channel”, which is either a further way to differentiate themselves from the growing Omnichannel mob or a Buddist/Matrix reference.


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