The Variations Between Multichannel vs Omnichannel Retail:  What You Need to Know

It’s time to talk about two of retail’s biggest catchphrases: omnichannel and multichannel. While both terms apply to commerce across several platforms, they describe two very different types of businesses.

It’s also important to note that companies which fall into one of these categories are historically more successful than those which fall into the other, so as a retailer, it’s important that you understand the characteristics of both types of business to ensure that you’re actively choosing which classification your store(s) fall under.

Curious about the differences between omnichannel vs multichannel businesses? Let’s discuss below.

Defining Multichannel Businesses

A multichannel business takes place across various touchpoints – such as mobile, in-store, email, social media, and more. Multichannel businesses interface with customers wherever they like to shop, so you can capture more sales with a multichannel business than if you were to operate your business on one channel alone.

For instance, a multichannel business may have physical coupons for in-store use and run separate digital promotions for its online sector, but digital coupons would not be valid in-store or vice versa.

In a multichannel business, back and front-of-house functions are often managed separately, and each customer-facing channel is often autonomously managed as well. Since each channel of a multichannel business is managed independently and there is not a lot of overlap, multichannel businesses can be prone to issues that arise from miscommunication, such as: shipping delays, misinformation across channels, human and technological errors, inaccurate inventory counts and more.

To prevent this type of disconnect, you should strive to offer consumers a cohesive shopping experience across all touchpoints and seek to unify your front and back of house operations.

Building an Omnichannel Business

Omnichannel businesses offer customers a fully-synchronized shopping experience across channels. This means that whether a customer shops online, in-store, on mobile devices, in-app, or even on social media, they have a consistent experience with your brand – even if they do their product research online and then wait a few days before making their final purchase from a computer.

It's true that providing an omnichannel shopping experience for your customers might cost your business more in terms of an initial investment than simply having a brand presence on multiple unrelated channels.

However, the long-term benefits outweigh the initial cost of investment. Business Insider reports that omnichannel customers are significantly more valuable than single-channel shoppers, spending more in-store (4%), online (10%), and they visit brick and mortar retailers 23 percent more than standard shoppers.

The reality is that the best retail customers expect to have an omnichannel shopping experience, so as a retailer, you need to be able to provide customers with a consistent experience across channels to maximize your business’ potential for success.

Understanding Omnichannel Investments

Despite the fact that 91 percent of retailers and brands currently have an omnichannel strategy or are planning to invest in omnichannel in the near future, and 87 percent of retailers see omnichannel as critical or important to their business, only 8 percent of retailers report having “mastered” omnichannel marketing.

These retailers are held back by their lack of knowledge about the practical implications of omnichannel adoption, or they don’t think that they have the right technology to optimize their omnichannel capabilities.

In actuality, building an omnichannel business can be an intimidating prospect. In fact, over half of retailers surveyed report that their omnichannel approach is still a “work in progress”. With so many retailers reporting that they’re still struggling with how to create a seamless omnichannel shopping experience across multiple touchpoints, it comes as no surprise that 83 percent plan to invest in their company’s omnichannel capabilities in the coming year.

Conclusion

While multichannel and omnichannel are both hot topics in retail, it’s important to recognize that only omnichannel will deliver a cohesive shopping experience across all channels of communication with customers.

Building your omnichannel capabilities doesn’t have to be complicated, fortunately. Demystify the process of automating and integrating your business by working with an experienced solution provider such as Brightpearl that can show you just how valuable omnichannel can be for your business.  

Find out how to master omnichannel retail. Download the book now!

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About the Author

Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is the Founder and Publisher of Retail Minded, a publication committed to supporting independent retailers through news, education and support, as well as the Co-Founder of the Independent Retailer Conference. Recognized for her expertise in independent retail, Reyhle has published thousands of articles about small business and is the Author of the book “Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business” from McGraw-Hill. Additionally, Reyhle has contributed to Forbes, Fiverr, IBM and more, and has been the Spokesperson for Small Business Saturday from American Express since 2014. Learn more about Retail Minded at www.retailminded.com, at @RetailMinded on Twitter or at Facebook.com/RetailMinded.