Omnichannel vs. Multichannel: How to Know Which Model Fits Your eCommerce Business

Kate Parish

Customers can now interact with brands through as many offline and particularly online touchpoints as never before. Moreover, people tend to use several means simultaneously and switch between them. This poses the need to ensure a consistent and seamless shopping experience throughout the customer journey which is becoming more and more challenging for the eCommerce industry.

Online retailers have already admitted that a flawless website and a mobile app bring great success in sales. That’s why brands invest so much time and money in the platforms’ development. For instance, in upgrading sites for better performance and the bounce rate reduction. But having fantastic products and selling platforms still aren’t enough for picky clients of the XXI century.

The next level to unlock for online retailers is omnichannel marketing or multichannel marketing depending on the scale and needs of the business. In this article, we’ll review both notions, underline crucial differences, take a look at fresh statistics and explore examples.

What is multichannel marketing?

The multichannel approach implies the multiple channels for the relationship between a current or potential customer and a merchant. There are offline and online stores, social media, emails, phone calls, wearable devices, geofencing, and more.

Multichannel tries to add as many touchpoints as possible to cater to different buyer personas, their needs, and requirements. For instance, youngsters like to communicate via social media, while an older audience prefers more customary and handy means such as phone calls or emails.

The thing is, all these touchpoints are more or less separate and independent. They do not form an ecosystem; there is no holistic strategy to follow.

What is omnichannel marketing?

The omnichannel strategy is all about the consistent interaction between a customer and a brand across channels. And no matter which means a consumer uses and how.

Buyers often use a few touchpoints and switch them in the process. For example, they browse online and buy offline. Therefore, omnichannel marketing strives to make the shopping experience seamless and personalized. For this aim, a brand must somehow link the offline and online branches of its business.

By using cutting-edge technologies, a business can save the history of communications and sales and facilitate all stages of purchasing. In other words, all history of the buyer’s behavior including ordering, checkout, delivery, return, and customer support is saved.

The omnichannel marketing approach is rather difficult to achieve. It requires identifying a user across all devices and channels and integrating online and offline data into a single user profile. However, the number of solutions in this area is growing, and eCommerce players across the world are gradually implementing them.

Omnichannel vs. multichannel: Key distinctions

To clarify the comparison, let’s consider four main differences between multichannel and omnichannel marketing.

The main focus

Multichannel is channel-centric: the main aim is to utilize as many channels as possible. The highest priority is spreading the brand’s messages to cover the massive audience and outline the possible means of contact.

Omnichannel is customer-centric: the focus shifts from the number of channels to the quality of every contact. The ultimate goal is to unite media and ensure data exchange across them. This helps to have a complete picture of every customer’s behavior, purchasing history, and possible needs.

Consistency

Multichannel is divided: every channel is maintained separately and independently. There can even be differences in the tone of voice across channels because of the nature of this approach. As representatives of each new medium of interaction aren’t aware of one’s inquiry, the customers usually repeat their behavior.

Omnichannel is coherent: channels are characterized by tight interconnections. Due to this, associates in different means of communication have all the needed info at hand. Thus, they can continue the conversation from a specific point if a customer switches the channel.

Customer-brand relationship

Multichannel engages and encourages right now. This type is aimed at making a person act at the moment rather than providing people with exclusive service and support and nurturing customers’ relationships for a longer time.

Omnichannel explores its customers and focuses on long-term relationships. This strategy lays the foundation for successful relationships in the future. Collecting the data, saving and analyzing the search and purchasing history allows delivering a personalized customer experience online and offline.

Convenience

Multichannel regards online and offline sales independently. Online and physical stores exist as separate entities. This means that buyers can’t combine both options in their shopping endeavors, or check the in-store availability or BOPIS/BORIS (buy-online-pickup-in-store/ buy-online-return-in-store).

Omnichannel makes the shopping experience seamless. Online and offline shops create a symbiosis that eases the shopping process by enriching it with plentiful hybrid possibilities. In the perfect situation, a customer gains a truly seamless shopping experience.

Important stats to consider

Omnichannel is a global trend, and numerous surveys and studies are proving its significance. For instance, NewStore, an omnichannel solutions provider, has recently published a curious 2019-2020 Omnichannel Leadership Report. This is the assessment of 200+ famous clothing, footwear, and accessories brands in terms of omnichannel marketing. Here are some takeaways:

  • 76% of brands do not have a store locator on their mobile apps;
  • 26% of apps show in-store inventory information;
  • 43% of stores have publicly available Wi-Fi;
  • 79% of shop associates can see in-store purchase history;
  • 58% of store associates can see online purchase history;
  • 74% of brands allow the use of digital payments (like Apple Pay or Google Pay);
  • 68% of store associates use a mobile or tablet device;
  • 2% of apparel stores offer self-checkout.

And a bit more statistics regarding the omnichannel strategy. 71% of people expect continuous communication on any brand channel. Of course, without the need to repeat info they’ve already told another rep.

Examples of multichannel in eCommerce

It wouldn’t be a mistake to say that almost all businesses have applied the multichannel strategy, as of today. The number of available channels varies as well as the depth of interaction through each of them.

It largely depends on which touchpoints a retailer considers as more/less efficient. That’s why you often notice seemingly abandoned Facebook pages or other social media that aren’t updated for a while. Let’s observe two examples of genuine multichannel (mostly there are small and mid-sized brands).

Loup

This clothing brand is now moving its offline boutique to a new location. Thus, there is not clear whether it shares info about the in-store availability. Currently, Loup counts only on their online connection with potential and current customers: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Vimeo, and email. The company underlines that customer service is available via an email request.

Loop example

Luna & Rose

This accessories label has both an online store and an offline one located in Bali. You can reach the team through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and email. A little button in the lower right corner invites you to text the brand via Messenger. While you’re waiting for a live agent to answer, you receive a couple of automated messages with some useful info.

Examples of omnichannel in eCommerce

There have been no indisputable examples of omnichannel in online retail yet. There is a lot of work ahead to bring it to perfection. Anyway, some brands (mostly mid and large-sized) are actively progressing on this path and implement strategies and technologies worth borrowing. Below are a couple of examples.

Free People

An American apparel brand Free People provides its online store visitors with info about inventory availability. When you opt for the item, you can also check it in the offline shop within a radius of 50 miles. The same option is accessible in the mobile app and in-store.

Besides this, here you can place the order online and pick it up later in the shop. The brand will notify you by email as soon as the order is ready. Unfortunately, the functionality is currently not available for all goods.

Athleta

An international apparel brand Athleta equipped its iPhone and Android apps with numerous omnichannel features. Firstly, you can scan product barcodes to see the item info and find more sizes. Secondly, you can buy online and pick up the order offline. Thirdly, you can use a Store Locator to find the closest shop to visit.

In-store staff actively use devices. Associates check the inventory and quickly accept payments in any corner of the store through a mobile point-of-sale system.

Nike

Nike App has become a real game-changer in the brand’s ride for the omnichannel experience for customers. Instant Checkout allows you to scan an item in an offline store and pay without waiting in line. In the app or in-store, you can also pay with Apple Pay and PayPal.

The Speed Shop feature (available in a flagship store) allows you to reserve goods prior to visiting the shop. Then you can pick the order up from the locker. These functions greatly facilitate and speed up the purchasing process.

Staff members in stores have iPads and iPhones to search for particular goods or offer customers a virtual try-on.

Which model fits your eCommerce business?

The multichannel approach has become a classic for retailers. If implemented and maintained right, it can offer customers a satisfying shopping experience.

It’s quite easy and not so costly to develop such infrastructure, which is one of its most attractive properties. Thus, a multichannel strategy for newcomers in eCommerce as well as small and middle-sized brands, and local ones could be the ideal approach. For many, it might be wise to start with providing a perfect multichannel connection with customers.

Omnichannel is largely about uniting your online store with all digital channels that you use to ensure a smooth customer journey. It requires a great deal of effort and efficient technical solutions that can be expensive. This transformation covers all aspects of functioning: your leading marketplaces, social media, support and dev teams, analytics, logistics. With that said, the move towards omnichannel is more affordable and reasonable for businesses of a larger scale.

The ultimate goal for every retailer is to win loyal customers by the product, price, and impeccable customer service. So, the main challenge is to make either a multi-channel or omnichannel strategy of your business effective, diverse, flexible, and up-to-date.

About the Author


Kate Parish
Kate Parish is the CMO at the web development company Onilab. She has more than eight years of experience in eCommerce Digital Marketing. Kate’s strengths are SEO, branding, SMM, Magento PWA development, Magento migration expert advice, and online retail in general.

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