Let’s define “omnichannel” as the use of multiple channels to unify the shopping experience – from product/service education, purchasing and customer service/support. Examples of channels include brick and mortar stores, online storefronts, mobile applications, and even telephone direct sales.

For retailers that have embraced the omnichannel way of doing business, they also should understand the impact of such a strategy, specifically when it comes to large in-store shopping events such as Black Friday.

Shopping is more “Experience” than “Event”

The rise of mobile and its “always on” connectivity has completely changed the shopping experience. Shopping can be done with just a few swipes on the phone. This shift means there is a blurring of the different channels, where consumers might review products on their phone while and then purchase in the physical store, or vice versa, and they expect to have a unified experience across all the channels of a specific brand.

For a recent real-world example of this trend, consider the outdoor retailer REI. The company recently announced all of its stores will be closed on Black Friday in order to encourage staff members to venture outside. While this is an altruistic move, it’s only possible because of mobile and online shopping. The company can simply shift its discounts and deals to the other channels, still make sales, and receive great publicity and brand building.

In-store events such as Black Friday, are no longer associated as much with the actual brick and mortar store. The day used to be more of an “event” where people would rush to the store, wait in lines and brave thre crowds. While this does still happens, it’s becoming more and more  unnecessary as mobile and web-based stores offer similar deals without any of the headaches, for example Cyber Monday. Shopping is no longer an “event” with an expiration date, instead it’s more of an ongoing experience, incorporating social reviews, video content (product demos or tutorials), and personalized discounts all working in unison.

When it’s done well by retailers, there is essentially one channel that is interconnected through data, so for example purchases made via mobile affect in-store inventory levels or ordering. Consider Home Depot, where shoppers can make a purchase in-store, online, or via mobile, and then have it shipped to the store or shipped to their home. They can also buy a product online and bring it into the store for a refund – only because omnichannel shopping means shared inventory and returns data.

Apps Remove the Mystery and Uncertainty

Before mobile devices were prevalent, many shoppers would need to peruse paper mailers to be sure their Black Friday deals were offered at the very best prices. With mobile sites and comparison shopping applications, consumers can quickly verify if they indeed have found a discount, or if a better offer (and maybe free shipping) can be found at another site or location. Some apps are built specifically for Black Friday shopping, with some retailers offering instant price matches in the retail store when the shopper shows a lower price on their phone.

Other applications know the user’s location and can then present deals and discounts in real-time, so they are presented with offers wherever, whenever. While the Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals might be more aggressive, the use of apps and mobile means discounts are not tied to any certain day. For retailers, the main focus is on creating a simple and painless experience for their shoppers. Think of Amazon’s “1-click” buying, which is simplicity at it’s finest. The shopper finds an item, and purchases in one click, just as the name implies!

Retailers certainly should embrace the omnichannel shopping experience and leverage the technology available, but it’s important to understand that omnichannel comes with a fundamental transformation in the way retailers operate, especially on big shopping days such as Black Friday. Companies should focus on the entire shopping experience, where customers can have their questions answered quickly and can then make an informed purchase in an instant on a variety of channels.