Ethan Chernofsky of on the Omnichannel Experience

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One word we’ve seen non-stop in the MULO (multi-location) space over the past five years is OMNICHANNEL.

Smartphones, the pandemic, and Amazon all accelerated this shopping style. The consumer not only decides which brands they like and what products they need (or want) but also how they want to buy them, pick them up, and even return them.

We recently spoke with Ethan Chernofsky, Marketing SVP of The company is at the epicenter of the MULO ecosystem, using advanced data to help brands decide where to locate their brick-and-mortar locations. The company also publishes trend reports about different industry sectors, like a recent one about retail in 2024.

We asked him a simple question with a complex answer — what will the balance be between physical locations and online buying heading into the future?

He replied,  “The phrasing of this question is critical because you need to increasingly lean into the idea of ‘balance.'”

Chernofsky believes that massive gaps still exist that get in the way of delivering a true omni experience. Each channel has its own unique attributes.

Brands and retailers alike need to continue to enhance the “store” experience and incorporate digital into that, rather than treating them as two distinct shopping journeys and revenue streams.

He uses apparel brands like True Classic and Untuckit as great examples of using both in-store visits and digital channels to enhance the customer experience. Once a consumer identifies their size, the relationship can easily be maintained via digital. But getting the in-store sizing right is critically important. No matter how pleasant a salesperson is, if your pants don’t fit when they arrive (or come late), the entire relationship falls apart.

“A more nuanced view of the customer journey over time will consistently show the value of physical and digital engagement at different stages. Retailers who have the means to make those experiences delightful are those that will succeed.”

And how can we possibly talk about the physical/digital world without bringing up AI?

Says Chernofky, “In the short term, the biggest impact of AI will remain in the background. It plays a very significant role in data analysis, which drives breakthroughs in everything from real estate site selection to market research, cybersecurity, loyalty programs, and more. But in the short term, the expectation for physical retail should be in terms of what the product allows retailers to do, as opposed to enabling something customer-facing.”

Consumers will likely continue to select the purchase paths that work best for them as individuals. The definition of omnichannel will ultimately be determined by the consumer, based on their value system at the time and whether a live experience, digital shopping experience, or some combination works best.

Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.