The terms omnichannel and multichannel are often used interchangeably in the industry. However, the terms actually reflect two different approaches to eCommerce, and retailing in general. Let’s break it down.
What is multichannel retailing?
The prefix “multi-” means many, or more than one. Therefore, multichannel refers to more than one channel, or sales avenue, to engage customers. In retailing, companies that use multiple sales channels–ie: brick-and-mortar, web, mobile, etc.–yet focus on them individually, have a multichannel strategy. While they may encompass a strategy across many channels, each channel ultimately stands on its own.
What is omnichannel retailing?
The prefix “omni-” means all. Thus, omnichannel means to use all channels and devices to reach customers. In retailing, this means encompassing a consistent message, look, feel, and experience across each possible sales avenue. There is no such thing as mobile commerce or social selling in omnichannel retailing, because everything is one. It is one comprehensive strategy, as opposed to individual channels. Omnichannel, in a nutshell, is the capability of selling anywhere the customer is willing to purchase.
What’s the difference?
The primary difference is that in omnichannel retailing, your entire business works as a single entity. Every decision, alteration, adjustment or relationship affects all channels. However, in a multichannel setting, each channel is seen as a separate entity. Although the channels may sell the same products, each one is managed in its own unique manner. A multichannel strategy does not necessarily put emphasis on creating a seamless shopping experience for customers, while an omnichannel strategy’s main focus is to create a consistent experience.
Essentially, an omnichannel approach to retailing puts the customer at the center of everything. It recognizes that customers engage with companies across an abundance of channels, and it takes into consideration their desire for consistency.
As the digital world expands, the emphasis in the retail industry focuses more and more on customer experience. An omnichannel approach is the evolution of multichannel, in a way. As we move toward the future, an omnichannel retailing strategy will become more and more prevalent.