I felt like a thief as I grabbed my order and left without so much as saying hello to anyone. But instead of stealing a sandwich, I had stolen 15 minutes of my life back.

20 minutes earlier, lunch time had snuck up on a hungry me, and I had already expended all my short-term brain power on email and getting ramped up for a successful week.

For some reason dealing with food on Mondays can be a strangely challenging task. So I went the easy route and hopped online to place an order at my nearby deli, Specialty’s.

The order process probably took 12 seconds. With my favorite sandwich customization, pickup location, and payment info already saved in my profile, buying my Turkey & Cran + Brie was as simple of logging in and clicking a few times. An email from “The Chef” confirmed my order and provided a receipt.

About 10 minutes later I received a text message letting my know my sandwich was ready. I walked a few blocks to the shop which had a jumble of 15 or so people in line or waiting for their food. Slipping through them, I strode up to the orders shelf to find my Turkey & Cran + Brie in a cleanly-folded brown paper bag. Large letters spelt my name across the top of a computer-generated label holding the fold shut.

So you can see why I felt like a thief as I swiped up my lunch and walked out without saying anything to anyone. 

This is omni-channel retailing.

It’s the future of retail, and it’s why I feel like I’m cheating the system when I bypass all the hassle associated with ordering a custom sandwich during lunchtime rush hour.

The modern consumer’s purchase journey has a variety of touchpoints:

  • websites
  • mobile sites and apps
  • email
  • in-store kiosks and displays
  • social media
  • digital ads
  • search
  • by phone call center with an automated service or person

The convergence of these in-store and online purchase paths has been dubbed “omni-channel retailing,” from the latin “omni-” meaning “all” or “everywhere.”  By integrating the data from each channel, the multi-channel experience is transformed into an omni-channel experience.

The key is to allows consumers to smoothly pass between different channels without being disrupted. Remember how I seamlessly passed from website, to email, to text message, to physical store, in a carefully choreographed path of purchase and service?

Successful omni-channel retailing requires the integration of logistics, supply chain, IT, social networks, and marketing. It seems like a tall order, but companies like Macy’s, Sephora, and Urban Outfitters are “merging clicks with bricks” as they push to compete more strongly with digitally-native online retailers like Amazon. As are, of course, little sandwich shops with 10 locations like Specialty's.