Omnichannel vs. Multichannel: What are the Differences

omnichannel vs multichannel

Learn how to create a strong customer experience using omnichannel and multichannel commerce.

Customers today have grown used to getting what they want, when they want and how they want. Food can be ordered from any restaurant and delivered at any time of day, and the weekly shop can be conducted online with the goods delivered within hours. Meanwhile, competition for customers has increased across every industry.

For modern businesses, it is no longer about offering the right products or services, but also about presenting a seamless customer experience. For retailers hoping to expand their presence, drive sales and create loyal customers, it has become necessary to provide a superior customer experience.

So how do you improve your customer experience to ensure your business is competitive? There are two different approaches: multichannel commerce and omnichannel commerce.

Multichannel commerce involves a business interacting directly and indirectly with customers in multiple but separate ways. In a multichannel strategy, each channel – such as marketing channels like email or social media, or sales channels like websites and brick-and-mortar shops – operates separately from the others. This means there often isn’t a huge amount of cohesion in marketing messaging or sales inventory across all channels.

Omnichannel commerce involves a more cohesive and integrated approach that provides customers with a connected experience throughout the entire browsing, shopping and purchasing process. The omnichannel approach means a business presents a seamless marketing message throughout all of their channels, meaning customers can relate to each of the channels in the same way, whether they are shopping in-store, or via their mobile device or desktop computer.

What is multichannel commerce?

A multichannel strategy uses multiple channels to inform customers about a brand and to provide options for them to purchase products or services. These channels are not necessarily connected, but each communicates with the customer in their own way. Each channel also analyses their own data to adjust and improve their strategy independently.

How does a multichannel strategy work?

The more channels a business has to interact with customers, the more opportunities it has to attract attention and promote its goods and services. The goal of using multichannel marketing is thus to employ a variety of different channels to increase brand awareness and drive sales.

For example, a multichannel marketing campaign could include television adverts, social media posts, email newsletters and in-store promotions all working in parallel. They all communicate the same message with some medium-specific variations, but do not necessarily encourage the customer to connect the channels.

What are the benefits of a multichannel strategy?

A good multichannel strategy can help you get new eyes on your brand and offerings, and even help build loyalty with the existing customer base by reaffirming relevant values. Using multiple channels to market your business gets your message into more spaces to reach more people, thus giving you more chances to attract and impress prospective customers.

What is omnichannel commerce?

Omnichannel commerce connects all of the various channels to cohesively engage with customers. Instead of putting out messages on a channel-by-channel basis, an omnichannel marketing strategy involves creating a web of interconnected channels that work in unison, encouraging customers to connect them and remain within the brand ecosystem.

How does an omnichannel strategy work?

Omnichannel commerce is all about cohesion and a connected customer experience. One example is a superstore that lets a customer order online. They could have the item delivered or choose to pick it up in-person without needing to wait in a queue or physically find the item in the store.

A consistent and strong message across all channels is an important aspect of omnichannel marketing. The message and images presented to the customer must look and feel the same. You should also use calls-to-action to move customers between your channels.

What are the benefits of an omnichannel strategy?

A well-defined omnichannel strategy has an average 91% higher year-on-year increase in customer retention, compared to organisations without an omnichannel strategy, according to research by customer engagement platform Emarsys.

A great example of omnichannel marketing is Starbucks, whose app notifies users when they are near an outlet. If the notified user does indeed desire some Starbucks refreshment, then they can order what they want via the app and then go and pick it up without waiting in the queue.

Your business also benefits from creating a seamless experience for customers with omnichannel commerce because it requires all of your channels to be connected at the backend, which provides you with a more holistic view of your business performance.

This is especially useful if you sell on social media as well as via a website and a physical shop. Omnichannel commerce lets you sync your inventory across all channels so you know when to order what you need. Customers also have an up-to-date view of what’s available, as well as being able to purchase the same products on each channel.

How to shape your customer experience

How the channels interact is the key difference between multichannel and omnichannel commerce. A multichannel retailer has a website and a physical shop, but these two channels do not interact. An omnichannel retailer’s channels interact to maintain consistency in the customer experience.

For omnichannel commerce success, you need technology that streamlines everything for that integrated experience. Perhaps the most important is a payments processor that works across all your sales channels including your website, mobile app and in the physical shop itself. Ideally have a payments processor with point-of-sale, inventory and other critical software that integrates with your payments to create a valuable data source containing all your customer interactions and transactions.

Once the technology is in place, review your existing data to better understand your customers’ behaviour. Also survey your customers for insight into their shopping and marketing preferences. From there, start improving your customer experience to gain their loyalty and keep growing your business.