In 2012, Jerry Storch, then the CEO of Toys R Us, told attendees at the Shop.org conference that stores will never die thanks to omni-channel retail.

Since that time, many traditional retailers have invested heavily in omni-channel initiatives that seem wise, at least on the surface.

But are retailers’ omni-channel hopes really delusions?

It’s a question worth asking in the wake of horrible earnings reports from a number of high-profile retailers.

While the dismal performance of retailers like Macy’s, Gap, Kohl’s and Nordstrom could signal a weakening economy, the situation appears more complex than that and retail executives themselves admitted they don’t have all the answers. 

“We’re frankly scratching our heads,” Karen Hoguet, Macy’s CFO told investors and analysts.

She almost certainly isn’t the only one who is doing so. Despite the woes of retailers like Macy’s, April retail sales figures were strong.

So what gives?

In a nutshell: consumer behavior and the retail market are undergoing significant shifts, and this calls into question the viability of many retailers’ existing omni-channel strategies.

Amazon’s business is booming and it is rapidly expanding its footprint. Morgan Stanley says it’s now the number two apparel retailer in the US. And it’s not stopping there

While Amazon is growing and expanding, brick-and-mortar retailers turned omni-channel retailers aren’t seeing the results they had hoped for.

For instance, Macy’s digital sales are still growing by double-digit percentages but Hoguet revealed that they still “grew less rapidly than anticipated.”

And click-and-collect, which still accounts for just 3% of Kohl’s sales, apparently isn’t enough to offset declining store traffic.

Given the widespread trends being seen across the retail industry, including growing fragmentation and the rapidly rising number of store closures, an argument could be made that omni-channel dreams are fast being replaced by nightmares.

Some might suggest that the industry is simply going through a rough patch and that downsizing is a painful but necessary part of the transformation that omni-channel retailers must endure.

But the optimistic vision laid out in 2012 by Storch, who is now CEO of Canadian retail group Hudson’s Bay Company, clearly differs significantly from the reality in 2016.

There might be merit to the omni-channel concept generally, but many of the retailers that are banking on it can no longer pretend that it’s their saving grace because for most of them, it almost certainly won’t be.