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Multi-Channel vs. Omnichannel Commerce

Manjari Thakur-Gohil • January 23, 2018

With the onslaught of new technology and new marketing strategies comes a wave of buzzwords…it is marketing after all.

There may not be hotter commerce topics right now than multi-channel and omnichannel strategies. This means that the industry needs a clear way to differentiate the terms and go beyond jargon to actually implement successful strategies.

The starting point for developing successful strategies and driving growth is in understanding the difference between the two terms.


Multi-Channel Commerce

The biggest reason confusion exists with these terms is because the commerce industry is changing so quickly.

Multi-channel commerce refers to a customer’s ability to interact with brands on multiple platforms. Essentially, it’s all about consumer choice. Companies engaged in multi-channel marketing are looking to make it easy for shoppers to engage and buy from them in whichever way they prefer.

Smart retailers can then double down on the most lucrative or promising channels. At the end of the day, multi-channel comes down to providing consumers with options.


Omnichannel Commerce

So, if multi-channel commerce is all about providing consumers with engagement and buying options, what then is omnichannel commerce?

Omnichannel commerce takes the multi-channel approach and fills in the gaps between channels. These days, customers are simultaneously looking for information across channels. Omnichannel commerce aims to integrate the shopping experience, ensuring consistency and communication across brick-and-mortar, desktop, mobile, phone, and any other channel.

The operative word is Omni – meaning always, without exception – and this is the core differentiator from multi-channel commerce. Omnichannel removes the boundaries between different channels to create a singular, integrated whole.

To better clarify each concept, here are four key differentiators that separate multi-channel from omnichannel.

1. The Channel vs. The Customer

A multi-channel approach merely aims to drive engagement through a wide variety of channels. This wide-net approach reaches a broad audience on many channels, but engagement is limited by the selected channel. For example, a retailer’s email campaign may communicate a deal to drive engagement with its email list, but this deal may not be accessible to other shoppers who landed on the site organically or through social media.

Conversely, an omnichannel approach seeks to interconnect every channel to engage with customers at a holistic level. The customer is known throughout the engagement ecosystem, and the focus is on building stronger relationships between consumers and the brand.

Going back to our example, the retailer’s email might include data from the shopper’s previous in-store purchases, and offer further deals for social media engagement. Once treated separately, the retailer is now integrating data across email, social media, and in-store actions to create a much more intimate offer to its customer.

The data backs up the omnichannel method: Well-defined omnichannel customer experience strategies achieve a 91% higher year-over-year increase in customer retention rate on average, compared to organizations without omnichannel programs in place.

2. Consistency vs. Engagement

Omnichannel focuses on the total customer experience. This brings about the second key difference between the strategies: consistency. Omnichannel retailers are diligent in ensuring their customers receive the same experience and messaging across every channel.

A consistent brand image and message ensures a heightened sense of familiarity and relationship with the brand. Marketers implementing an omnichannel marketing strategy must ensure that all internal departments are aligned from a messaging and creative perspective. For example, PR, customer success, social media, and sales teams must all portray a seamless and consistent message to ensure the strategy implementation is successful.


3. Effort vs. Effortless

Another priority of omnichannel marketing is in “understanding how to eliminate effort from the customer experience”.

The multi-channel commerce approach views different channels as simple and singular engagement options. Omnichannel commerce doesn’t just look at channels as options, but as purchasing paths. These paths can then be integrated to minimize customer effort throughout their shopping journey.

Customers want convenience. An omnichannel approach enables shoppers to buy with ease on a scale that multi-channel can’t touch.


4. Personalization

Smart retailers understand that cross-channel data is imperative to delivering engaging and personalized shopping experiences. When experiences are siloed by channel – as in the multi-channel approach – this data is difficult to collect and analyze. Attribution is made on a channel level instead of a customer level, making effective personalization essentially impossible across channels.

Omnichannel commerce is built upon providing a seamless, personalized experience to each and every customer, no matter where they interact with the brand. This retail approach ensures data collection is customer-centric, and that the data is deployed across a consistent, seamless experience.


Final Thoughts

If it’s not obvious by now, we’ll come out and say it: retailers in 2018 NEED to be well on their way towards transforming into an omnichannel business.

In the UK, current figures suggest that mobile customers’ share of total purchases will grow by 55% in the next five years, and reach nearly £20bn within a decade. Yet, even when that becomes a reality, mobile customers will still only make up 5% of all UK retail. 84% of sales activity will still be taking place in brick-and-mortar shops.

What’s the point? Brick-and-mortar retail isn’t dead – far from it – but shoppers DEMAND an integrated and seamless experience across all channels. The retailers that can deliver these experiences are the ones that will have success.

Manjari Thakur-Gohil

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Manjari Thakur-Gohil

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