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Let me be the first to wish you a happy Omni-yule13

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With just mumble-mumble shopping days to go until Christmas, retailers – if not consumers – are already well into the run up to their seasonal selling frenzy. And this year will be the first really omni-channel Christmas we have experienced. While much of the talk is that it will be a mobile Christmas – with more than 50% of e-commerce shopping set to be done over mobile, according to John Lewis – really what we are going to see is an omni-channel yule. The omni-yule, if you will.

But is the retail industry really ready for omni-yule13? On paper perhaps, but in reality what omni-channel means to the consumer is an amorphous, shape shifting, any-way-the-wind blows kind of a concept. And this, for the retailer, involves a huge number of permutations of online, mobile, tablet and in-store – each used in a complex web of steps as part of, to borrow from the argot of the X-factor, the ‘journey’.

Did you know for instance, that increasingly – as many as 88% of consumers in the US according to one company – consumers are webrooming? That’s kind of showrooming in reverse. The trend is increasingly for consumers to suss out what they want to buy from the comfort of their own home before heading to the shops.

And this is becoming evermore prevalent in the run up to Christmas: many people – me included – are aiming to keep the hell of actually mixing with other shoppers to a minimum and sorting out what I want to buy before I set off. Often clicking and collecting where possible.

This is really click and collect on steroids. Well more browse-click-collect on the sofa, but it is becoming a recognised phenomenon in the run up to Christmas, especially in the US. And, with the unlikely growth in popularity of Google Hangout (mainly to the detriment of Facebook, which is losing its edge), this is an unlikely development in the run up to omni-yule13.

Of course, in Japan this has been very popular for a couple of years, with department stores now routinely developing iPad apps of their stores that let people browse a virtual version of the actual shop without having to leave home.

While many are webrooming, others are starting to get the hang of social shopping – especially in the US – where some consumers are hitting the streets connected to their friends via Google Hangout, while their friends, webrooming at home, are telling them what to buy.

This extends the idea of recommendation and sharing to a whole new level and locks together social, mobile and in-store in a whole new, ehem, paradigm.

But what does all this mean for the hard pushed retailer at what is the busiest time of the year? Well, if truth be told, it should mean nothing. It should just be the grand finale to a year of collecting customer data and really understanding what they do – their browsing verses buying habits; their social interactions with the brand and their friends and any other parameters that retailers can glean. This is probably why the US has tapped Angel Merkle’s phone for ten years: they want to know what to get her for Christmas.

But this also throws up huge issues around stock control and marketing. From a stock control point of view, the store has to be able to fulfil on the idea that people may not click, but might just turn up to collect. Not having it in stock could be fatal.

Similarly, stores need to look at whether their customers are starting to exhibit this behaviour and make sure that they are getting the right marketing messages to them. According to Joseph Pigato, MD of Sparked – a US based mobile customer engagement platform – what omni-channel really means is that retails are going to have to spend all year collecting and collating vast amounts of behavioural data around each of their customers to truly offer (a) very, very personalised marketing and (b) work out how they shop and how to get them to the channel they want.

And its a daunting task. Sure, Omni-yule13 will see consumer start to behave like this, but really the challenge is going to be how to collect and use this data all year round – and mobile is going to be central to that. Remember, Omni-yule is not just for Christmas, it’ll dog you all year.

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