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November 30, 2012 11:59 AM

Rise of the Omni Sapiens

I have been fostering in my heart of hearts a hatred for all things omni ever since people started using the term to refer to some magical combination of consumption that connects the Web with brick-and-mortar stores....

I have been fostering in my heart of hearts a hatred for all things omni ever since people started using the term to refer to some magical combination of consumption that connects the Web with brick-and-mortar stores.

There's just never been an explanation of omnichannel that made sense to me, that said something other than, "We've got a Web site and stores so come buy from us, wherever, please." 

I always assumed that setting an omnichannel strategy was just a fancy way of trying to convince Wall Street that you're really not a mature, staid and slowly growing retail business, but a hot, young Web player that's infusing your bricks with the electricity of the high-growth 'Net. 

And although high-paid consultants and even higher paid ceo's over the course of these last two years were unable to convince me that omni anything was, well, anything, my pre-school son has changed my mind -- just a little. 

When I'm not loving and supporting him, I'm performing subtle consumer experiments as his brain and interest in material stuff -- especially superhero-oriented stuff -- increases. 

So the other day when I said he could get a new toy, he perked up. 

 "We look on mommy's computer?" 

"Sure," I said. "Or do you want to go to the store?" 

"Yeah, I want to go to the place." 

"OK." 

And then, after a short pause, he said, "Now we look at mommy's computer?" 

I tried to get him to decide, but couldn't. Did he want to shop online or did he want to go to the store? The answer was very definitely both. He wanted to look at his options on the computer or phone and go to the store. (He actually wanted to dive into the Web for hours and obsess over what he might get, but we don't let him do that.) 

He is an omni sapien. 

He has probably never in his life been more than a couple hundred yards away from some Web-enabled device and even then only for brief instances. Older kids and young adults today have also grown up with the Internet all over, but the little ones now are truly and completely getting programed to think about buying online. 

And although I still don't see tons of evidence that being "omni" is different than having both a store and a Web site, there are good reasons to think deep thoughts about how new generations of consumers will shop, what they'll want and what they won't put up with. 

The shoppers of the future will have the same basic desires, but a whole different outlook. 

If talking about retail a little differently and coming up with a label actually leads to or is a sign of a new kind of thinking that will better prepare the industry not for just the next year, but the next decade, that's a very good thing.
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