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From Multichannel to “Omnichannel” Retailing:
Review of the Literature and Calls for Research
C. Lazaris*, A. Vrechopoulos
ELTRUN – The E-Business Center
Department of Management Science and Technology,
Athens University of Economics and Business, Greece, 76, Patission St.
The continuously changing retail practices and consumer behavioural patterns mainly attributed to the wide diffusion
and adoption of innovative technologies and applications for retail purposes, call for research initiatives that should
investigate this topic through multiple perspectives and approaches. The paper provides a thorough literature review
and implications for research and practice on the evolving retailing landscape, emphasizing on the transformation of
multichannel to omnichannel retailing. Multidisciplinary research approach mainly positioned on the Marketing,
Electronic Commerce and Information Systems domains is adopted aiming to explore the crucial role of Information
and Communication Technologies (ICT) in current business and consumer practices. The review of the literature is
mainly displayed in a chronological sequence in accordance to multichannel-omnichannel concepts, so as to highlight
the evolution of the research attempts and corresponding business initiatives on that topic and provide an integrated
view of the available research insights. Also, it is attempted to present, discuss and synthesize available definitions,
terms and concepts in order to further clarify the critical issues derived through the various disciplines/domains that
are actively involved in that topic. A collection of relevant research calls, along with corresponding practical
implications derived through the review of the existing literature, are thoroughly discussed.
Keywords: Multichannel Retailing, Omnichannel Retailing, Literature Review, Research Calls
Τhe increasing diffusion and adoption of alternative business-to-consumer retail channels through both traditional and
innovative retail settings has transformed retail practices and consumers’ shopping processes, as well as has created
several interesting research issues in the context of the fast evolving multichannel retail environment. Today, the
capability of the simultaneous use of several consumer-store interaction channels (e.g. use of mobile internet access
within the physical retail store to search for product information and/or compare product prices) constitutes the
dominant characteristic of the “omnichannel” retailing phenomenon, which builds on the well established multichannel
retail infrastructure, mainly developed since the commercial exploitation of the World Wide Web. “Omni” is a Latin
word meaning “all”, “universal”. This new term originates from business practitioners, but recently also gained
attention among academia. The first encounter of the term was at IDC’s Global Retail Insights research unit reports,
where Parker & Hand (2009) and Ortis & Casoli (2009) suggested that the "omnichannel" shopper is an evolution of the
multichannel consumer who instead of using channels in parallel, he uses them all simultaneously. Since then, the term
remained a buzzword until it started to gain increased attention in recent years by both the academic community and
practitioners. Rigby (2011, p.4) was the first to mention the term in academic literature by defining omnichannel
retailing as: “an integrated sales experience that melds the advantages of physical stores with the information-rich
experience of online shopping”. We observe that the definition was extended to the point that it involved not just the
simultaneous use of channels, but the experience that derives from the integrated combination of them. The last attempt
to define the term was by Levy, et al. (2013, p.67), who introduced “omniretailing” as: “a coordinated multichannel
offering that provides a seamless experience when using all of the retailer’s shopping channels”. They all agree that the
prevalent notions are integrated/seamless experience using all channels.
By studying the available academic literature we admit that these concepts are not new. In fact, they have appeared at
multiple disciplines and research areas since the very beginning of the e-commerce era. The following sections of this
paper aim to conduct a thorough review of the existing literature on this emerging and highly promising topic, as well as
provide some directions for empirical research designs. Specifically, the paper attempts to clarify the main differences
observed between multichannel and omnichannel retailing, placing particular emphasis on the role of Information and
Communication Technologies (ICT). Also, the paper presents through a structured manner the main academic works
that have focused on the omnichannel retailing phenomenon. Similarly, except the presentation of the available
theoretical definitions and frameworks, the study thoroughly depicts the existing empirical studies that have been
conducted in the context of omnichannel retailing settings by discussing their specific objectives, the research
methodology followed and their main findings, conclusions and implications as well as their calls for future research.
Finally, the paper identifies managerial implications that arise due to the shift to omnichannel retail practices.
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
From the previous section, it is evident that a literature review in omnichannel retailing should include studies from
multiple disciplines, since omnichannel refers to the use of both physical and online channels combined with the
delivery of seamless shopping experiences. To this end, Multichannel retailing/E-Commerce literature should be the
basis for such a review and should extend to the areas of Customer Relationship Management, Supply Chain
Management, Mobile Commerce and Pervasive Retailing. However, it should be noted that due to space constraints, the
present study elaborates on an indicative list of relevant key references on that topic.
2.1 Multichannel Retailing/E-Commerce Literature
Multichannel literature throughout the years has dealt with several concepts, such as: strategy, pricing, consumer
decision-making process, channel cannibalization, service quality, brand loyalty, customer satisfaction, multichannel
attribution, channel mix optimization, channel switching, customer experience, coordination, integration, synergies &
dissynergies. The last seven of them are the most relevant to omnichannel by definition.
The review of the relevant literature reveals that the origins of omnichannel arise from the notion of “click ‘n’ mortar”.
Specifically, in 2000, Otto & Chung wonder how can e-commerce techniques be combined with traditional physical
retailing, in order to enhance the value of the shopping experience. They named this concept “cyber-enhanced retailing”
and propose e-commerce practices that can be used in conjunction with conventional retailing. Customer experience
was also addressed by Burke (2002). He conducted an empirical quantitative study investigating how consumers want
to shop online and offline, including 128 different aspects of the shopping experience. He found out that shoppers were
fond of shopping features that assisted them in multichannel shopping (e.g. research online – purchase in store, shop
online – pickup in store) and concluded that retailers should integrate channels so as to assist consumers to move
transparently between them. Similarly, Görsch, D. (2002, p.757) showed that “the goal of multi-channel integration
must be to provide a superior customer experience that is consistent and seamless across channels”. Also, Shankar et al.
(2011) suggested that a seamless shopping experience leads to satisfaction and shopper retain, which can be achieved
by providing “the same information in the same style and tone across the channels” (p.33). Finally, last year, Nash et al.
(2013) signified the importance of enabling technologies to provide data-enabled customer interactions and advanced
analytics, in order to create enhanced customer experience, which results in increased customer satisfaction, loyalty and
greater customer lifetime value.
Regarding channel integration, synergies & coordination, Steinfield et al. (2002) underlined the importance of seamless
integration across channels and recognize that it is a difficult task. At the same year, Schoenbachler & Gordon (2002)
elaborate on the consistency of brand image and propose that advertising should maintain the consistency of image,
integrated across channels and the focus should be on customers, not channels. Also, Bendoly (2005) discovered
through a quantitative research that firms simultaneously managing both online and in-store channels should adopt
seamless & transparent channel integration, which is associated with increased loyalty. Next, Sousa & Voss (2006)
proposed “integration quality” as a component of quality in multichannel service and define it as: “the ability to provide
customers with a seamless service experience across multiple channels” (p.365), comprising of two dimensions:
channel-service configuration and integrated interactions. Chatterjee (2006) suggests that cross-channel retailers that
adopt coordinated order online–purchase offline strategies can be more profitable than those who employ multiple
channels independently. On the other hand, studying a different selection of online & offline shopping channels during
at home (TV, catalogs, and the web), Joo & Park (2008) discovered that there is no cross-channel synergy among in-
home channels and that firms should clarify the role of each channel and link the channels appropriately. Furthermore,
Kwon & Lennon (2009) conducted a quantitative research and underlined the significance of seamless integration and
consistent image management in multichannel environments. On the other hand, Cassab (2009) predicted the powerful
impact that the mobile channel will have in channel integration, marketing and customizing of retail mix offerings,
while Hahn & Kim (2009) concluded that consumers’ trust can be retained by ensuring offline to online and vice versa
seamless transactions, with minimum of hassle. To this end, Pookulangara et al. (2011) using a quantitative empirical
research discovered the importance of retailers to utilize a retailing strategy of “uninterrupted flow of communication
with their consumers” (p.319) through the use of blogs, customer-generated reviews and electronic word of mouth.
Finally, Yang et al. (2011) introduced the concept of perceived entitativity (“the degree to which a collection of
individual entities is perceived as belonging to a group”, p.1689) as a construct to evaluate the benefits of multichannel
Channel switching, consumer decision-making & brand loyalty are subjects of utmost importance in omnichannel
environments. In relation to these, Dijk et al. (2005), through an exploratory empirical study found out that consumers
actively assess the acquired information from several channels in order to obtain the best deal offered by the channel
that suits them best at that moment. Along these lines, Van Baal & Dach (2005), defined free riding behaviour (“when
consumers use one retailer’s channel only to obtain information and evaluate products and switch to another supplier to
place their business”, p.76) and examined it in a multichannel environment. They found out that in order to deal with
such kind of behaviour, retailers should offer distinctive cross-channel benefits and also apply distribution integration
strategies, as well as apply customer relationship management practices. Furthermore, Sands et al. (2010) conducted a
quantitative survey and found out that the online channel leads to consumers’ engagement with the retailer in such a
way that can increase in-store spending. Chatterjee (2010) presents evidence via quantitative methods that price-
conscious consumers who order online & pick up in-store from a cross-channel retailer are less likely to engage in free
riding behaviour, than consumers who shop from a multiple channel retailer, that doesn’t provide such offering/service.
Schramm-Klein et al. (2011) employing a quantitative approach, proved that consumers that perceive a seamless
multichannel context, react with strong loyalty. Zhang & Oh (2013) elaborated on the notion of “showrooming“, which
is synonymous to free riding and discovered through an empirical study the factors that lead to it. Lastly, Heitz-Spahn
(2013) calls for further research on the effects of m-commerce, mobile applications and new retail formats regarding
cross-channel free-riding behaviour.
Store atmosphere in multichannel retailing is a topic not thoroughly researched. We believe that omnichannel
environments pave new grounds for scientific exploration in this direction. Verhagen & van Dolen (2009) provide
related literature, by employing quantitative methods, a linkage of store atmosphere with multichannel retailing:
multichannel store image (as an element of the store atmosphere) can be achieved by online and offline database
integration (managers can provide consumers with online offers that relate to offline purchases). Finally, Vrechopoulos
(2010) talked about a paradigm shift in multichannel retailing store atmosphere, since for the first time the consumer is
able to alter atmospheric elements utilizing emerging technologies in-store.
2.2 Pervasive/Mobile Retailing & ICT Literature
While traditional multichannel & E-Commerce literature contributed to the foundation of the omnichannel concept,
additional literature in other areas provided useful knowledge regarding the simultaneous use of channels, which is the
ultimate form of omnichannel and constitutes the prevalent behaviour of “omnishoppers” (consumers that utilize all
channels simultaneously). Indicatively, in 2001 Kourouthanassis et al. proposed a business and technology framework,
exploiting emerging ICT, mobile commerce technologies and the RFID, in order to integrate all available channels and
the supply chain, providing innovative in-store, home and on-the-move scenarios/services. Elaborating on pervasive
retailing concepts, Kourouthanassis et al. (2007) re-evaluated the 2001 concept from a user experience perspective and
found out through a field experiment that it can be greatly enhanced by pervasive retailing technologies (smart shopping
carts, RFID, etc). Then, Andersson & Nordmark (2008) bridged online and offline channels by transferring e-shop
elements into an in-store electronic kiosk and discovered that it assisted sales. Finally, van Ittersum et al. (2013)
experimented with smart shopping carts utilizing tablets and investigated if consumer spending was influenced by such
technology applications. They found out that as far as budget shoppers are concerned, shopping experience
enhancement leads to repatronage intention.
Regarding mobile commerce perspectives, van der Heijden (2006) introduced a mobile decision support system to
accommodate in-store purchase decisions, while Westerman et al. (2007) compares a similar system in-store and on the
internet. Along these lines, Xu et al. (2008) through an ethnographic study discovered that augmented reality in mobile
applications enhance the in-store shopping experience. Furthermore, Karpischek et al. (2009) test an NFC-based mobile
sales assistant for salespeople utilizing focus groups. According to their findings, the application wasn’t considered to
provide benefits for them, which was attributed to the fear of replacement by machines. Similarly, Jan-Willem et al.
(2010) applied an interdisciplinary approach in order to explore how mobile recommendation agents influence
consumer behaviour. They suggested that retailers should provide wifi access, QR codes and similar technologies in
order to gain competitive advantage and elevate the shopping experience. However, Hui et al. (2013) were the first to
combine mobile apps in conjunction with RFID inside a store in order to predict the effect of mobile promotions on
travel distance and unplanned spending. They used field experiments and their results showed that mobile promotions
targeted at increasing travel distance, resulted in significant increase in unplanned spending.
In general ICT literature we also observe several omnichannel-related concepts. For example, Ganesh (2004) underlined
the importance of web services & customer decision support systems in order to provide a seamless buying experience
across channels, which leads to customer relationship enhancement and retention. Similarly, Liu et al. (2005) proposed
an IS architecture in order to facilitate in-store connected consumers with seamless shopping experiences. Furthermore,
Oh & Teo (2006) realized the importance of IT (internet connectivity, data warehousing and CRM) in providing “a
seamless flow of synchronized information across channels” & of the salespeople who should “enhance customer
experiences at various touchpoints” (p.2). They concluded that service-oriented shoppers appreciate convenience in
cross-channel shopping and desire self-service in stores. Finally, Ahearne & Rapp (2010) point out a different
perspective in multichannel retailing: the role of social media, user-created content and complementary technologies
and their exploitation by salespeople.
2.3 Omnichannel Retailing Literature
Since its first appearance by Rigby (2011), the omnichannel term has been referred in academic literature in recent
years appearing as the main or a supportive subject of several studies. In parallel, the omniretailing term was first
discussed by Bodhani (2012) and defined by Levy et al. (2013, p.67) as reported in the introductory section of the
paper. Specifically, Bodhani (2012) related it to retailers-shoppers connection across multiple traditional and non-
traditional channels. Then, in 2013 she used the term in conjunction with Augmented Reality in omnichannel retailing
(Bodhani, 2013a) and with Point-of-Sales systems threatened by cybercriminals (Bodhani, 2013b). As far as
omnichannel is concerned, Aubrey & Judge (2012) discussing about brand strategy and innovation, suggested that
omnichannel strategy should be adapted in order for brands to cope with consumer preference & loyalty. At the same
year, order online – pick-up in-store in the context of omnichannel was the subject of a Thesis in a Portuguese
University (Rosa, 2012). The following year, one of the most inspiring papers about omnichannel was published
(Brynjolfsson & Rahman, 2013), dealing with omnichannel concepts and strategies. Finally, at the present year several
studies were published showing the dynamics of the subject. Specifically, Bhalla (2014) attempted to clarify the
differences between multichannel and omnichannel using an applied case study approach, whereas Williams (2014)
admitted that while his focus was on social commerce, omnichannel should be taken into consideration since retail
touch points have converged into it. Moreover, Kireyev et al. (2014) elaborated on the price-matching policy aspect of
omnichannel. The interdisciplinary nature of omnichannel retailing is also indicated by a recent book chapter (Tambo,
2014) titled “Omni-channel Retail Information Systems”. Last but not least, Lazaris & Vrechopoulos (2014a) provided
research directions regarding HCI in omnichannel environments and, in addition to that, they explored the omnichannel
shopper behaviour though an exploratory quantitative study (Lazaris et. al, 2014b).
3. CONCLUSIONS, CLARIFICATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
It is clear that while the commercial diffusion and consumer adoption of omnishopping retailing innovations (e.g. in-
store visibility technologies, omnichannel commerce platforms, location-based retailing services, augmented reality) are
continuously increasing, relevant academic research is attempting to approach and investigate this issue through both
theoretical and empirical approaches. It should be clarified, however, that these research initiatives are not exclusively
positioned in the Marketing discipline but also vary from Information Systems integration to business processes
reengineering and organizational culture changes. In sum, it should be reminded that the main objective of the paper is
to summarize and to present through an integrated approach the relevant to the omnichannel retailing phenomenon key
studies and corresponding calls for future research, as well as to highlight some indicative managerial propositions that
deal with the “new retailing agenda”.
The approach followed by the present study is multidisciplinary in nature since the topic investigated appears in
Marketing, E-Commerce and Information Systems research outlets. The multidisciplinary nature of the topic is also
reflected on the review of the relevant literature as well as on the calls for future research reported at the present section
of the paper. Therefore, it is recommended that, due to the multiple disciplines and domains that are actively involved in
the investigation of the omnichannel concept, research initiatives on that topic should exploit concepts and methods
from all these areas following multidisciplinary research approaches. For example, when investigating the role of ICT
applications in retailing environments through an IS integration perspective, researchers should examine how these
applications influence key multichannel concepts (channel switching, free riding, pricing, attribution, loyalty, etc) in
providing a seamless consumer experience.
The study underlines the need to initially approach this topic by conducting exploratory empirical research attempts that
could support researchers to obtain important knowledge and understanding of consumer behavioural patterns and
characteristics in this emerging landscape. Then, conclusive research designs could in depth investigate a series of
important issues like the following: (a) Omnichannel Retail Store Atmosphere (ORSA) effects on shoppers, (b) Store
selection criteria in omnichannel retailing, (c) Classification and detailed profiling of shoppers according to the intensity
of using omnichannel practices, (d) Omnichannel retail personal selling techniques, (e) Strategic impact of omnichannel
retailing on retailers, (f) Customer Relationship Management (CRM) dynamics in an omnichannel retailing
environment, (g) Personalization/customization of the omnichannel retail mix, (h) Loyalty & free riding behaviour in
omnichannel settings, etc. In sum, technology enabled omnichannel retailing dynamics strongly affects both consumer
(e.g. shopping behaviour steps, free-riding behaviour, multichannel perception) and business (e.g. salesmen training for
effectively negotiating with omnichannel shoppers, necessity of universal analytics that combine online and offline
data, channel coordination, multichannel strategies) processes in various ways. Thus, some indicative implications for
practice, as derived by the present study, could be the following: (a) education and training of in-store employees (e.g.
salesmen, customer service), (b) adoption of state-of-the-art omnichannel technologies and applications both for the
business operations & for the in-store employees, (c) invest in consumer behaviour studies in order to provide the
optimum mix of the offered technologies/services depending on the business sector, culture, consumer behavioural
patterns and preferences, etc. (d) incorporate the omnichannel concept in the strategic marketing planning of the
organization (i.e. marketing plan) both as strategy and as a promising tool to implement selected strategies, (e) adopt a
multidisciplinary approach (e.g. organizational structure and processes), (f) seamlessly integrate channels (e.g. CRM,
Social Media, Web Site, Call Center, Mobile Applications, In-Store Technologies and Applications), unify all data
analytics and analyze both online & offline data, (g) focus on consumer data protection and permission Marketing
guidelines in the context of the Information Management business processes.
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