By Michelle Graff
Michelle-blogWant to guess what it is? Were you thinking “selfie?” Please, that’s so 2013.

Oxford crowned “vape” the word of the year in 2014. Vape can be used as a noun or a verb (but, then again, can’t almost anything these days?) and refers to an e-cigarette device (n.) or the physical act of breathing an e-cigarette’s vapor (v.).

Word of the year runners-up included normcore, a trend in which unfashionable clothing is worn as a fashion statement (clearly hipsters’ habits are creeping out of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and into our daily lexicon); slacktivism, when one’s political activism is limited to, for example, liking a cause on Facebook; and bae, a term of endearment for one’s significant other.

All this nerdy word talk near year’s end got me thinking about the trends that shaped retailing in 2014, and the words we use to define them.

At first, I was going to make this blog a list of three, or perhaps even five, words that sum up the year for jeweler. People love lists nowadays, don’t they? The 10 wedding dresses weirder than Solange Knowles, the 50 best memes of Kim Kardashian’s naked posterior, the five cat videos one can’t live without ... we just can’t get enough, apparently.

But then I thought, lists be damned. I am going to do this one at a time.

The first word that came to mind when I applied the retail lens to Oxford’s Word of the Year exercise was omnichannel, giving customers a seamless shopping experience whether they are in the store, shopping from a desktop or mobile device, or browsing a brand via social media.

Omnichannel retailing is evidence of something one industry analyst told me a few years ago that has stuck with me: People have shopped at brick-and-mortar stores since the marketplaces that served as the centerpieces of ancient civilizations.

Shopping is more than just getting what you need. It’s a social experience as well, and that’s never going to disappear entirely in favor of buying from an iPad. The millions of people who will be rounding up their sisters, cousins and aunts to hit the stores right after Thanksgiving dinner? That’s as much about socializing as it is shopping.

But the Internet has changed how people shop, obviously.

At first, the Internet created this us-vs.-them construct, pitting traditional brick-and-mortar stores against pure-play online retailers.

For independent jewelers, it seemed at one point that they were losing the battle to online engagement ring sellers like Blue Nile.

As time wore on, however, the playing field began to level out a bit. Jewelers learned how to better compete with their online nemeses, and consumers began to find more of a balance, embracing both the convenience of the Internet while at the same time gravitating toward retailers who share their values. (To this end, I think the impersonal nature of the Internet has been, in some ways, a boon for small, locally owned businesses. But that is a topic for part II of this blog when I discuss another one of my Word of the Year picks, local.)

The novelty of buying online has worn off, and it’s no longer about online vs. off--the independent jeweler battling Blue Nile, or the local bookstore taking on Amazon. It’s about allowing the customer to shop when and where they want. Amazon and Blue Nile know this, and that’s why they are making a push to have a physical presence. They can’t compete on price alone. They must be able to personally connect with consumers.

If customers want to come into a store to touch and feel a product then go home and, after thinking about it, buy it online at midnight from their iPad while watching Netflix in their pajamas, then retailers have to give them the ability to do that. Customers have come to expect this kind of flexibility. If one store doesn’t provide it, then the competitor down the street will.

If customers choose to shop online but then don’t like what they order, they expect to be able to return it in the store. They might not have the time or the inclination to repackage the product and send it back through the mail. They also might decide, as I have many times, that they’d rather see the merchandise in person before purchasing. That is all the better for retailers today, who are looking for ways to get people into their stores.

That’s what ominchannel is all about, and it’s everything right now in retail. That’s why it’s one of my words of the year.

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