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During the past several years, technology has moved quickly in the e-commerce industry such that two terms emerged and were featured prominently as the “next big things”: omnichannel and multichannel.

Although they sound alike, omnichannel and multichannel approaches to online retail are different not only in how they are executed, but in what they are centered around.

Being able to distinguish the two strategies can help retailers realize the gaps in their e-commerce ecoystem, and ultimately how omnichannels provide a much more comprehensive solution to most if not all of the pain points retailers face in today’s era of hybrid retail.

1. Defining Omnichannel & Multichannel

1 - Definition

Multichannel – The multichannel approach came out of a desire for retailers to be able to reach customers on different sales channels. For example, in multichannel marketing, brands can choose to be active on their website, social media platforms, and e-mail. However, the multichannel approach doesn’t revolve around the integration of these various channels – for a brand to manage (in the aforementioned example) their marketing operations, they would need seperate teams and applications to handle each channel.


Omnichannel – Stemming out from the multichannel approach, omnichannels strive to close the remaining gaps that multichannels are not able to address. While multichannels give retailers the opportunity to reach customers where they are, omnichannels take this a step further by connecting each channel with one another, creating a seamless experience for customers.

2. Differences in Approach

2 - Approach

The key difference between the two approaches here is what they set out to achieve: multichannel approaches are about providing different channels, while omnichannel put the customers first – multichannel approaches end once retailers are able to set up an operational platform, while omnichannel approaches only begin there.


If for example a customer wants to go check out a brand’s website, then buy in-store, then the multi-channel approach gives retailers the ability to provide that option. But, for customers who are discerning, customers who use many platforms and interact with a brand in various channels, retailers have to maintain a consistent customer experience – that’s where omnichannels come in. 


Omnichannels help retailers reduce a team’s workload – both in effort and in time spent – by bringing every channel together into one platform. Unlike multichannels, omnichannel platforms help retailers interact with customers without having to compromise the quality they provide. 


For example, if a customer messages a brand on both their website chat and their Facebook page, multichannel approaches would have different teams managing either channel. This means that unless all teams are exactly on the same page, customers can feel the difference of messaging and branding when interacting on different channels.


Omnichannels not only address this concern, but also give retailers a greater ability to personalize their shopping experience by being able to collect and consolidate customer data from all channels. By integrating this data into one platform, retailers can better connect and understand the entire shopping journey of their customers, and quickly react to changes in shopping behavior.

3. Supply Chain Strategies

3 - Supply Chain

Just as previously described, multichannels and omnichannels both aim to provide a diverse range of sales channels in order to service customers depending on which channel they’re on, but the main difference is the philosophy of doing so.


As multichannels develop different workflows for business operations such as marketing or customer support, the same is true for a brand’s supply chain. A multichannel approach will accommodate a brand’s online & offline stores by having a separate team handling each category. 


This leaves retailers vulnerable to two things: cost-spikes due to increase in manpower, and miscommunication. For example, because a brand’s physical store has a different WMS & fulfillment system than its e-commerce stores, a multiplying number of teams have to be deployed to manage each. On top of this, brand marketing is also separate across all channels, making it difficult for retailers to create a consistent brand voice.


Omnichannels, on the other hand, centralize all the channels together into one platform. Retailers are able to synchronize their inventories and orders, eliminating the chance that certain item prices & stocks are different from one sales channel to the next. Because of this integration, consumers can enjoy a seamless experience regardless of which channel they choose to utilize. 


To summarize the differences, think of the omnichannel approach as a way to connect loose ends that derive out of the multichannel approach. Both strategies look to create a solid infrastructure for retailers to keep up with the needs and wants of customers, but omnichannels aim to improve upon what the multichannel strategy set out to accomplish.


For retailers who are looking to have better data collection & analytics, greater brand visibility & reach, cost reduction, process-error reduction, and ultimately drive customer loyalty through a consistent shopping experience, omnichannels are currently the go-to solution.



Want to know more about omnichannels? Check out what we wrote here!


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