In the overlapping worlds of ecommerce, social selling, digital marketplaces, and physical storefronts, omnichannel and multichannel are the most popular buzzwords.
But it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two.
Below, we’ll arm you with the information you need to decide which approach to take.
Table of contents
- What is omnichannel?
- How does omnichannel retail work?
- What is multichannel?
- How does multichannel retail work?
- Multichannel vs. omnichannel marketing strategy: The big difference
- How to choose the right strategy for your business
- 5 omnichannel and multichannel examples
What is omnichannel?
Omnichannel is a customer centric sales strategy that provides a seamless shopping experience between marketing channels. Omnichannel allows merchants to sell through multiple channels, like desktops, mobile devices, and in-store.
It’s about communicating in ways that are aligned with why customers use a given channel, and showing awareness of their individual stage in the customer lifecycle.
Customers can purchase wherever they are—rather than treating channels as independent silos, omnichannel accounts for the spillover between channels and offers customer experiences within and between channels.
Advantages of omnichannel
- Improved customer satisfaction and loyalty
- Better data collection and analysis
- Increased sales and revenue
Disadvantages of omnichannel
- Requires significant investment in technology and infrastructure
- Complex implementation and management
- May necessitate organizational restructuring
How does omnichannel retail work?
In essence, omnichannel removes the boundaries between different sales and marketing channels to create a unified, integrated whole.
The distinctions between channels—onsite, social, mobile, email, physical, and instant messaging—disappear as a single view of the customer, as well as a single experience of commerce, emerges.
In place of a multi-spoke approach, omnichannel marketing merges the worlds of websites, emails, retargeted ads, social media marketing, and physical locations to show personalized offers, products, and messages.
Learn more: Omnichannel Retail Strategy: The What, Why, and How of “In-Store” Shopping
What is multichannel?
A multichannel strategy blends the customer experience and gives them a choice to engage on the channel they prefer. It’s flexible but expects brands to behave in the confines of the channel.
Think of multichannel marketing as a wheel with spokes. At the center of the wheel is your product (i.e., a sale). On the outer rim of the wheel are your customers, where each channel offers a separate and independent opportunity to purchase.
Once it’s clear which channels resonate best with your target market, you can optimize those channels to maximize your marketing efforts.
Advantages of multichannel
- Greater reach and visibility
- Flexibility in targeting different customer segments
- Multiple touchpoints for customer engagement
Disadvantages of multichannel
- Inconsistency in customer experience
- Difficulty in tracking and measuring performance
- Limited integration between channels
How does multichannel retail work?
A multichannel retail strategy uses multiple, independent touchpoints to interact with customers, like websites, social media, mobile apps, and physical stores. The main goal is to expand the company’s reach, ensuring that products and services are available across a variety of platforms to meet the needs of diverse customers.
Multichannel retail lets businesses target different customer segments and maximize visibility, even if they’re not fully integrated. The multichannel retail model helps businesses increase their market presence and cater to a wider range of customer needs by offering customers multiple ways to interact with them.
Learn more: How to Build an Effective Multichannel Retailing Strategy
Multichannel vs. omnichannel marketing strategy: The big difference
There are a few main differences between omnichannel and multichannel strategies:
How to choose the right strategy for your business
Omnichannel strategy, which offers a smoother customer experience, seems like a logical choice. But it’s not so clear-cut. Starting your businesses as a physical retail store versus a digitally native brand makes a difference in which approach you should choose.
Converting a retail business to omnichannel requires significant resources. Worse yet, there’s no stopping halfway. Non-functioning omnichannel technology will create the same experience as absolutely no technology at all.
So while omnichannel is ideal, some businesses might be better served starting off with a multichannel experience before tying them all together.
Consider two key concepts when deciding:
- Resources: Providing an omnichannel experience requires IT investment and prowess, the right infrastructure and tech stack, and the vision necessary to integrate and execute. If you’ve built a headless commerce architecture, you may need a robust content management system to execute. If you have a traditional architecture, a product information management (PIM) system may act as your tech backbone. Without an in-house IT staff, you may need to hire ecommerce technology experts.
- Flexibility: A large part of making the transition to omnichannel is about people and incentives. Resist incentives that reward maximizing sales in each channel, regardless of the impact such objectives have on adjacent channels or the overall customer experience. Buy-in is also crucial.
CMOs and CIOs, in particular, must develop a shared vision and ensure it’s adopted throughout the organization. Be sure your executive leadership team has the technical background to implement the components of an omnichannel transition.
Identifying the right approach for your brand starts with clearly understanding the difference between omnichannel and multichannel.
The future promises new channels not yet imagined or technologically feasible. Regardless of whether you invest in multi- or omnichannel, developing the flexibility to adapt and integrate new channels will determine whether you’ll be successful tomorrow.
5 omnichannel and multichannel examples
Gymshark, a rapidly growing global fitness and apparel brand, migrated to Shopify Plus after a Black Friday crash caused an eight-hour outage.
The multichannel growth strategy resulted in a 9.3 times return on investment (ROI) on a Black Friday social media campaign and a 197% overall increase in holiday revenue, generating $128 million in financial year 2018 revenue.
Gymshark leverages Shopify Plus to offer personalized customer experiences, run site-wide promotions, and execute global campaigns while maintaining a reliable and customizable platform. The company’s innovative campaigns have gained recognition from Facebook executives and contributed to Gymshark’s success.
Learn more: Holiday Disaster to a $128M Global Brand: Behind Gymshark’s Multichannel Empire
Augustine Tan founded UglyFood to combat food waste by repurposing unattractive but edible produce into juices, salads, and fruit teas. The brand gained popularity in Singapore and expanded to Europe and the United States in partnership with entrepreneur Sean Goh.
UglyFood uses Shopify Plus for its ecommerce and Shopify POS for its cafés, which also serve as fulfillment centers for local pickup orders.
Shopify POS assists UglyFood in managing perishable inventory, increasing store sales through local pickups, and improving customer retention, with 50% of sales coming from returning customers. By offering local pickup options with discounts and allowing customers to schedule pickup times, UglyFood can upsell more effectively.
Shopify’s timed inventory controls help UglyFood monitor perishable stock and minimize waste, while the app ecosystem enables scheduling and limiting store pickups. As a result, UglyFood has seen higher sales, a loyal customer base, and a strong focus on reducing food waste.
Learn more: How UglyFood Reduces Food Waste and Increases Store Sales with Shopify POS
Red Dress Boutique
Red Dress Boutique transformed from a brick-and-mortar store into a multichannel ecommerce business generating $15 million in annual sales. The company replatformed from Magento to Shopify Plus after two years of scouting for the right enterprise ecommerce platform.
The new platform offered a faster and better-looking site, resulting in sales growth of 34% in March and 23% in April year over year. Leveraging influencer marketing and social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Stories helped boost sales and connect with the brand’s audience. Shopify Plus significantly reduced costs compared to Magento, saving around $100,000 per year.
Learn more: At $15M in Sales, Red Dress Boutique Saves $100K & Grew Double Digits YoY
Emma Bridgewater, a British home and kitchen brand, revitalized its ecommerce strategy with Shopify Plus.
Focusing on improving mobile user experience and multicurrency ecommerce, the company achieved a 13% increase in mobile revenue and a 32% boost in new users. A complete site redesign enhanced navigation and search, while improved data tracking by region supported international expansion. The results were immediate, with a £190,000 sale day following migration to the new platform.
Learn more: Emma Bridgewater, That Classic English Brand, Has Gone Mobile
Allbirds, a startup fashion brand, used Shopify POS to create a seamless omnichannel experience for its customers.
With more than 20 stores globally, Allbirds increased conversions using buy in-store, ship to customer technology and improved inventory management. The company employed up to 18 Shopify POS systems in each store, enabling fast checkouts and better customer experiences.
Allbirds’ use of Shopify Plus provided valuable insights on customer preferences and inventory decisions, creating a unified shopping experience across its channels.
Learn more: Allbirds’ Omnichannel Conversions Soared Using Buy In-store, Sship to Customer
Omnichannel vs Multichannel FAQ
Is Amazon multichannel or omnichannel?
Amazon is an omnichannel retailer, as it provides customers with a seamless, integrated shopping experience across multiple channels, such as online, physical store, and mobile apps.
What is the difference between omnichannel and multichannel customer support?
The difference between omnichannel and multichannel customer support lies in their approach. Omnichannel support provides a seamless and consistent experience across all channels, while multichannel support offers multiple ways for customers to reach out, but without necessarily integrating the channels or ensuring a consistent experience.
What is the difference between multichannel and cross-channel?
The difference between multichannel and cross-channel is in the level of integration. Multichannel refers to the use of more than one channel for marketing or customer support, whereas cross-channel emphasizes the integration and coordination of these channels to create a seamless customer journey.
What is an omnichannel example?
An omnichannel example is Apple, which offers a consistent customer experience through its online store, physical retail stores, and the Apple Support app, allowing customers to switch between channels effortlessly, while maintaining a cohesive experience.