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Explained: The Key Differences Between Omnichannel Vs. Multichannel Retail


Jessica Farelly

By Jessica Farrelly

While the terms “omnichannel” and “multichannel” are sometimes used interchangeably, these misleadingly similar-sounding phrases are two distinct approaches to selling. So, what’s the difference between omnichannel vs. multichannel retailing? 

This guide will shed light on that question using detailed examples, with the aim of helping you choose the best approach for your business. 

Omnichannel vs. multichannel retailing: what are the key differences?

Omnichannel and multichannel retailing are not the same thing. While the goal of both techniques is ultimately to sell more products, that’s where the similarities end. Here’s a cheat sheet on the differences between omnichannel vs. multichannel retailing.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Retailing
Omnichannel Multichannel
Means “all channels” Means “many channels”
Customer-focused Product-focused
All touch points on the customer journey create a consistent shopping experience Siloed sales channels
Unified sales and marketing strategy across channels Separate sales and marketing strategies for each channel

Confused? Don’t worry. Read on for a thorough explanation of these strategies, and some illustrative examples.

What is omnichannel retailing? 

The Latin prefix “omni” means “all” – omnichannel retailing encompasses every channel to sell goods. 

Omnichannel retailing puts the customer first. Mastering this technique requires a deep understanding of your customer’s journey, what their needs are, and how they go about getting their needs met.

When executed successfully, omnichannel can fuse all sales channels available – brick and mortar, ecommerce, advertising, social media, etc. – to get the customer to embark on this journey, make a purchase, and become a lifelong fan and buyer. For that reason, sales and marketing teams work together to create a holistic experience, rather than one that propels customers towards one sales channel or one product. 

Omnichannel example

Let’s explore what an omnichannel retail experience might look like from the perspective of a customer shopping with luxury outdoor furniture company, AuthenTEAK

Say a shopper discovers their online store on Google while searching for an outdoor heater for their patio. They end up on a category page on AuthenTEAK’s ecommerce site that displays all of its outdoor heating options. 

omichannel vs multichannel retail

Through that page, the customer discovers fire pits and clicks through to learn more. They narrow their selection down using filters, add two models to their cart, but don’t complete the purchase.

A few days after visiting AuthenTEAK’s website, the customer might get an abandoned cart reminder email but doesn’t engage with it. Several days after that, the customer could see an Instagram ad for the fire pits they added to their cart, and discover that they live close to AuthenTEAK’s Atlanta showroom.

The customer visits the showroom, gets advice from a sales associate who is familiar with the models the customer has viewed online, makes a purchase, then enjoys their outdoor oasis all winter long.

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What is multichannel retailing?

The prefix “multi” comes from the Latin word “multus” meaning “many”. Multichannel retailing leverages many sales channels, but not all of them.

Unlike an omnichannel experience, which is centered around the consumer, multichannel merchandising is product-focused. It’s about making the sale.

Just like omnichannel, a multichannel strategy uses various outlets to make the sale, but it treats these different sales channels as separate, siloed facets of the business, instead of using them together. In the multichannel retailing approach, every channel is seen as a unique opportunity to make a sale. Therefore, each channel may employ different sales and marketing campaigns and tactics.

Multichannel example

Now let’s see what a multichannel retailing approach may look like for a brand that specializes in outdoor heaters. We’ll call this imaginary brand “NYC Heaters.” NYC Heaters sells its products on its own ecommerce website, via social media, on Amazon, and in several stores.

A shopper could make a purchase in one of several ways. They could discover the heaters through a Facebook ad, and complete the purchase without ever visiting NYC Heaters’ website. Or, a shopper could discover a heater from the brand while conducting a Google search and buy the heater directly via Google Shopping

Alternatively, a shopper could come across the heaters on Amazon and make a purchase without interacting with or noticing the NYC Heaters brand. If the shopper’s friend were to compliment them on their new heater, the shopper would probably say, “I got it on Amazon,” instead of “it’s from NYC Heaters,” which could result in a lost sale opportunity.

Because a multichannel approach simply aims to sell products, rather than to engage the customer, the company loses out on brand awareness and its lucrative benefits. 

Omnichannel vs. multichannel retailing demystified

Let’s review: omnichannel retailing fuses all channels into one customer-focused sales strategy that creates a seamless shopping experience across outlets. Multichannel retailing focuses on the product and treats every channel as a different sales opportunity. 

While planning and implementing an omnichannel approach arguably takes more time and investment than a multichannel strategy, the long-term benefits for your brand are undeniable. Which approach is best for your business? That’s up to you. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that Searchspring’s ecommerce solutions can help boost conversions on your online store through search, merchandising, recommendations, and more. Request a demo today to find out more.

Jessica Farelly

Jessica FarrellyContent Marketing Manager, Searchspring

Jessica has worked as a content writer for B2B and B2C businesses in a variety of industries. An avid online shopper, she has become immersed in everything that goes on behind the scenes of ecommerce since joining the Searchspring team, and loves writing about the latest trends and happenings in the industry.

Special thanks to our friends at Searchspring for their insights on this topic.
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