This article was updated in March 2023
Customers are accustomed to getting what they want, when and how they want it. They can get food delivered from any restaurant at any time of day. And they can get groceries delivered to their door in just a few hours. At the same time, competition has increased across all industries.
More and more, it’s about providing not only the right products or services but also an incredible customer experience. Retailers are hoping that a seamless customer experience can help expand their presence, drive sales, and create loyal customers.
But how do you create great customer experiences? You might have heard about two different approaches: multichannel commerce and omnichannel commerce.
Multichannel commerce provides multiple ways for businesses to interact directly and indirectly with customers. In a multichannel strategy, each channel — whether marketing channels like email or social media or sales channels like a website and brick-and-mortar store — operates separately from one another. With this approach, there isn’t necessarily cohesion in messaging (if it’s marketing) or inventory (if it’s sales) across all channels.
Omnichannel commerce refers to an integrated approach that provides customers with a cohesive experience throughout the shopping and purchase process. With this approach, a business provides a seamless marketing message throughout its channels and a cohesive way for customers to shop in-store, via mobile device, or on a desktop.
Understanding multichannel commerce
What is multichannel commerce?
A multichannel strategy uses a variety of channels to let customers know about a brand and purchase its products or services. These channels don’t necessarily work together, but each pushes out messages and ingests data.
How does a multichannel strategy work?
The goal of using multichannel marketing is to employ different channels to get the word out about your brand and products. Think of it like this: The more ways you can interact with customers, the more opportunities you have to catch their attention.
As part of a multichannel marketing campaign, for example, you might market a campaign to the world via TV ads, social media posts, email newsletters, direct mail, and in-store promotions, all in parallel. These channels would use the same message but wouldn’t necessarily encourage you to connect them to each other — in other words, these methods don’t “talk” to each other.
What are the benefits of a multichannel strategy?
Having a strong multichannel strategy can help you both reach new customers and build loyalty with your existing customer base. By using multiple channels to market your business, for instance, you’re putting your message in more places and reaching more people. This gives you more chances to meet prospective customers.
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Understanding omnichannel commerce
What is omnichannel commerce?
Omnichannel commerce connects the dots between all your channels to better engage with your customers. Instead of pushing messages channel by channel, an omnichannel marketing strategy creates something like a web of channels. The goal is to keep customers moving around within the brand ecosystem, with each channel working in harmony to nurture more sales and engagement.
How does an omnichannel strategy work?
Omnichannel commerce provides the customer with a cohesive experience. For example, you can offer to have an item delivered or the option for in-store pickup. This allows the customer to complete a purchase online and then pick it up in the store without waiting in line or having to walk around to find what they want.
An important aspect of omnichannel marketing is having a consistent and strong message across all your channels. You want the message and images to look and feel the same, so customers recognize your brand in the store and online. You also want CTAs to move customers between your channels.
What are the benefits of an omnichannel strategy?
Companies with well-defined omnichannel strategies tend to see boosts to their eCommerce sales figures — retail eCommerce in Canada amounted to $67 billion in 2022.
But omnichannel commerce strategies also benefit the customer. Your channels need to be connected on the backend to provide a seamless experience, which creates a more holistic view of your business performance — not to mention, when your systems can “talk” to each other, you won’t have upset customers who all tried to buy the same product at the same time only to find you’d sold out hours ago.
For instance, if you sell on social, a website, and in your store, you should sync inventory across all channels so customers always have an up-to-date view of what’s available and can purchase the same products on each channel. This also gives you a better idea of when you need to purchase new inventory and what kinds of things perform best on each channel.
How to shape your customer experience
The key difference between multichannel and omnichannel commerce is how channels interact. For example, a retailer with a multichannel strategy might have a website and a physical store, but these two channels do not interact. With an omnichannel strategy, regardless of how customers interact with the brand, their experience is consistent.
To excel at omnichannel commerce, you may need to invest in some technology that streamlines everything for that integrated experience. For instance, customers might enjoy having price checkers or tablets in stores and use them to interact with your product. Purchasing even a used iPad for customers to access in your store can help them engage more with your products.
But on a more basic level, you should choose a payments processor that can work across all your sales channels: in-store, in-app, and online. Look for point-of-sale, inventory, and other critical software that integrates with your payments to create a source of truth for all your customer interactions and transactions.
Once you have your technology in place, review your existing data to paint a picture of your customers’ behaviours and survey your customers now and then to learn how they prefer to shop or receive your marketing messages. From there, you can start building customer experiences that grow your business and wow your customers.