Over the past few decades, ecommerce has evolved, becoming a crucial channel for every distributor, retailer, or wholesaler. The crucial role of ecommerce was cemented by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in millions of new shoppers – especially businesses – beginning to shop online.
According to Silicon Valley Bank, US online sales reached over $200 billion in 2021, contributing 18% of total retail sales, marking an increase from the 10% of retail sales ten years ago. According to McKinsey, ecommerce is currently the most successful channel for B2B businesses.
Ecommerce is crucial, but it’s only part of the story. Before making a purchase, modern consumers engage with ten channels on average. They check the product information on online marketplaces, read ratings and reviews, check Amazon, explore corporate websites, browse social media, and visit brick-and-mortar stores. According to McKinsey research, customers are widely distributed between traditional channels (like in-person shopping), remote human connections (like phone calls), and digital self-serve channels (like ecommerce) at each stage of the purchasing process.
What does this mean for retailers? It means they can’t emphasize just one channel but must ensure a consistent experience across all channels, creating an omnichannel go-to-market strategy.
Omnichannel and multichannel are buzzwords you’ve probably heard of if you work in digital marketing, retail, or ecommerce. It could be challenging to distinguish between them because both require leveraging multiple channels to engage with customers.
These are different phrases, and there are several reasons why retailers might prefer one over the other.
We will dive in-depth into the differences between omnichannel and multichannel to help you make the right choice for your business.
But before we dive in, let’s first define each strategy.
Definitions: Multichannel vs. Omnichannel
In today’s digital age, businesses have multiple channels to reach customers. With the rise of ecommerce, the options have only increased. Multichannel and omnichannel are two approaches to digital commerce that involve using multiple channels to reach and engage with customers. While both terms have similar goals, they differ in strategy and implementation.
What is Multichannel?
Multichannel commerce involves using multiple channels to interact with customers, such as email, social media, online marketplaces, and brick-and-mortar stores. However, these channels often operate independently, meaning customers may have different experiences depending on their chosen channel. For example, a customer may receive a discount code via email that they can’t redeem in a physical store.
The key objective of multichannel ecommerce is to be present on all channels to ensure that the maximum number of customers can find and purchase the products they need. Multichannel ecommerce offers customers different options to choose the one that suits them the most.
In a nutshell, every channel in a multichannel approach works independently and presents its own sales opportunities.
What is Omnichannel?
Like multichannel, omnichannel also involves using various channels for customer engagement. But, in the case of an omnichannel strategy, all those channels are integrated to give the customer a seamless experience across the board.
For example, a customer may start browsing products on a company’s website, add items to their cart, and then continue purchasing in a physical store. The customer’s information and order details would be seamlessly transferred from the online to the offline channel, providing a consistent experience.
Below are a few other omnichannel ecommerce examples that might help you better understand the concept:
- A customer gets a promotional text message regarding a product while shopping in a brick-and-mortar store.
- Customers are retargeted on Instagram with the product they left in their shopping cart.
- A promotional email notifies users to check their emails for a flyer with discount coupons.
Multichannel Vs. Omnichannel: 3 Key Differences
There are three significant differences between omnichannel vs. multichannel, all focusing on the aims and purposes of the different techniques.
1. Customer Experience Vs. Customer Engagement
One of the critical distinctions between the two is that multichannel prioritizes customer engagement while an omnichannel strategy focuses on enhancing the consumer experience.
The goal of multichannel ecommerce is to reach as many people as you can to increase brand awareness. On the other hand, omnichannel retail aims to provide customers who are already aware of and interacting with a company with consistent customer experience.
Let’s put this difference in a proper context — for example, social media.
Gaining more followers, comments, likes, and shares on your social media pages and posts is the goal of a multichannel approach because these metrics demonstrate that more people are engaging with your business. Conversely, an omnichannel strategy will focus less on quantity-based metrics and more on guaranteeing that customers can seamlessly shift from your ecommerce brand’s social media platform to the official website.
For example, when customers click on a Facebook ad, they are redirected to the product page on the company’s website, thus offering an enhanced and seamless customer experience.
2. Customer Focused Vs. Channel Focused
The second major difference is that an omnichannel strategy is customer-focused, whereas a multichannel approach focuses on channels.
Multichannel retail intends to maximize the channels used to promote a business. More channels give customers more options for how they want to interact with a brand. The more channels a customer has, the more options are available to the customer.
The customer, not the channel, is the focus of omnichannel retail.
The goal is to put the consumer first and give them the best experience possible as they switch channels, reducing friction across various digital touchpoints. This approach prefers fewer interconnected channels than more unconnected channels.
For example, a multichannel approach in ecommerce would consist of many channels, including social media, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) & paid channels, emails, billboards, phone calls, websites, and even radio averts. Comparatively, the omnichannel approach would only involve half of these channels, including social media, websites, and email. They sync so potential customers can move effortlessly from one channel to another.
3. Quantity Vs. Quality
The most important difference between the two is the number of communication channels used in comparison to the quality of the support provided through them.
Multichannel is all about increasing the number of channels available, as we have already mentioned. The more channels offered, the better it is. It broadens the audience base and allows customers to interact with a company.
However, the channels are not connected, so clients must start over from the beginning when they switch between them. This may reduce the quality of support received.
For instance, a consumer might call customer service for assistance if they cannot log into their account. The customer is guided through the password-changing process by the customer representative.
After the call, the customer begins to follow the instructions, but they encounter a phase that the agent did not mention and are still trying to figure out what to do. They connect with an email customer support this time and include a screenshot because they believe seeing the new step will be easier than explaining it.
Due to a disconnect between the company’s email and phone channels, consumers must email from the beginning to outline their issues.
The quality of service provided throughout a business’s channels is at the heart of the omnichannel approach. A customer can select from any available channel and be confident that the quality of support they get will be the same.
Unlike the multichannel technique, an omnichannel approach allows customers to switch between channels without restarting their communications.
Consumers do not have to repeat the same circumstance when they change to email. The customer representative will enter the exchange details under the customer’s data in the business’ CRM (Customer Relationship Management). This data is accessible by the person handling the email, giving them valuable context when they respond to the consumer on the new channel.
The main difference between multichannel and omnichannel commerce is the level of integration and consistency across channels. Multichannel commerce involves using multiple channels that may not work together seamlessly. On the other hand, Omnichannel commerce focuses on creating a cohesive and integrated customer experience across all channels.
Multichannel Vs. Omnichannel Examples
Executing an omnichannel or multichannel retail strategy can be done in numerous ways. Both are based on a solid foundation of well-organized product data. Still, an omnichannel strategy includes initiatives more tailored to the customer or requiring more complex data synchronization than a siloed multichannel setup.
To better illustrate the differences between multichannel and omnichannel retail, here are some examples of each:
Household brand Vileda collaborated with digital agency Gruppo DigiTouch to create a multichannel digital strategy to increase sales in the Italian Amazon store. They enhanced search visibility and discoverability by combining Sponsored Products and Sponsored Brands while interacting with customers. They boosted revenue and brand impressions by leveraging multiple channels in their digital strategy.
A prime champion of omnichannel experiences is Google, and its browser, Google Chrome, is the best example. Users’ activity and history are synced between all devices when signed into their Google accounts. Even tabs that users leave open on their laptops can now be accessed on their phone’s app.
Regardless of the device used to access Chrome, this seamless synchronization allows users to have a flawless experience. The outcome? Google Chrome currently dominates around 65% of the market share for internet browsers. That demonstrates the importance of providing an omnichannel experience across your product and your retail, sales, and service efforts.
One of the world’s largest retailers of cosmetics, Sephora, provides an omnichannel experience that links online and in-store shopping for its customers. Customers can use in-store tablets to access their “Beauty Bag” account while shopping, in addition to beauty classes and free makeovers.
They can use this account to browse product descriptions and use digital software to try on beauty items virtually. If a product appeals to them, they can add it to a wish list and use the app to buy everything from the list.
By helping customers narrow their options from among a vast range of products, Sephora encourages customers to make purchases by merging its Beauty Bag feature with its in-store communication channel.
4. JLo Beauty
Jennifer Lopez leveraged a multichannel approach while launching her new skincare line, JLo Beauty, in partnership with Guthy-Renker. In doing so, they were able to highlight ways to engage with customers.
For instance, they used specific, creative methods of client outreach, including building a custom Store and hosting a live stream with Jennifer Lopez. They successfully drew attention to their brand launch through the many platforms they leveraged.
Making Flawless Shopping Experience a Reality
Implementing an effective omnichannel strategy requires breaking down the data, channel, and organizational silos. To provide a more seamless consumer experience, organizations can overcome these obstacles with the help of a commerce experience management (CommerceXM) platform.
A CommerceXM platform can integrate your brand’s multichannel and omnichannel strategies to provide a smooth experience at every customer journey stage.
A single source of truth for customer and product information allows you to distribute this data dynamically across numerous channels at once. It also enables you to manage all your product and operational data in one place.
Product accuracy issues frequently arise for brands across their websites, mobile apps, and third-party websites like Amazon, Target, and Walmart.
Consumers want to feel like you’ve taken the time to get to know them – whether they walk through your retail storefront, one of your online storefronts, or your ecommerce partners. The right tools and technologies can help people feel more familiar, saving them the hassle of introducing themselves repeatedly on a different channel.
Our team of experts has successfully helped a lot of brands in significantly growing their businesses and generating revenues. We can do the same for you – the key to going omnichannel and beyond!
Don’t hesitate to schedule a call with TechBlocks today and take your business to new heights.