Multi-channel vs. Omnichannel: The Key Differences

If you are selling products at multiple online marketplaces, deciding what strategy works best for you is crucial. Although the terms multi-channel retail and omnichannel retail are often mistaken for being interchangeable, they are two very distinct strategies. While multi-channel focuses on customer experiences based on each marketplace, omnichannel encompasses a brand-specific experience across all marketplaces and all customer touchpoints. Thats why multi-channel vs omnichannel is a common misconception.

Here, we compare the key differences between the two to help you decide which one is best to meet your goals – a streamlined brand experience to increase sales and brand awareness or increasing sales across multiple marketplaces.

1. What is a multi-channel strategy?

A multi-channel strategy sells across multiple sales channels, ensuring the products and information comply with the specific guidelines of each channel. In this approach, you have to meet the needs of the channel and, in turn, sell specifically to the customers on that channel.

All of your content is tailored to the platform, and what you do on one channel won’t impact other channels. For example, an abandoned shopping cart on Amazon might trigger an email telling the customer they forgot something, and the follow-up ends there. However, you miss the opportunity to build relationships and brand awareness with this approach.

2. What is an omnichannel strategy?

Multi-channel vs omnichannnel strategy require far different approaches. Omnichannel involves selling on several channels, it also includes channels to raise brand awareness. Therefore, it focuses on the customer experience as opposed to meeting the needs of each channel. Instead of relying on the channel to dictate your approach based on their findings, you use your own customer insights to provide the type of product information they prefer. This way, regardless of what channel a customer uses to buy your products, their experience is always the same.

For example, should a customer abandon their cart on Amazon, it triggers an integrated response across all touchpoints, from social media to Google ads. The customer encounters consistent messaging reminding them they have items in their cart. With this approach, you build strong, long-lasting relationships based on superior customer experiences.

3. What elements contribute to multi-channel customer experience?

Although multi-channel retail focuses on the marketplace’s shopping experience, you can still maintain some control when you focus on the following elements:

Inventory management

The main challenge of multi-channel strategies is compliance across all marketplaces. Therefore, your inventory management requires an integrated software solution. This approach ensures you can manage your inventory in real-time throughout the entire supply chain and back again via returns. Integration also enables you to customize product information to remain compliant with each channel using a PIM to oversee product listings for every channel. So you can still inject some brand awareness into your product information.

Fulfillment and shipping

Although your hands are tied at the product information level for each marketplace, you can still provide consistent customer experiences at the fulfillment stage. Ensuring customers receive orders as expected, and processing orders in the same way regardless of the channel ensures your brand is protected and trusted.

Returns management

Multi-channel returns can be a real nightmare without a smooth receiving and restocking process. You also have to correct or revise orders and resend them to ensure you improve the customer experience and regain trust. Again, an integrated inventory and product management system enables you to track inventory accurately to improve customer experience.

4. What elements contribute to omnichannel strategy?

To create a seamless customer experience, there are several elements that contribute to your omnichannel strategy, including:

  • Unified messaging: Omnichannel is all about creating cohesive messaging so your brand message is clear regardless of where and how customers interact with your brand.
  • Customer data to drive decisions: Collecting customer data provides customer journey insights so you understand customer behavior and can meet their needs at any stage of the journey.
  • Personalization: Customer data also enables you to create personalized customer experiences to increase lifetime value.
  • Targeted content: Targeted content across each platform, including high-quality product shots, video, and copy, makes it easier for customers to reach their goals.
  • Individual channel goals: In terms of multi-channel vs omnichannel doesn’t rely on a one size fits all approach. Instead, your content must be highly customized based on the objectives and goals you are trying to achieve at each channel AND for each customer.

5. Which is best? Multi-channel or omnichannel retail

Who wins the battle of multi-channel vs omnichannel?

It really depends on your goals. If you simply want to get your products on as many channels as possible without the worry of analytics, customer journeys, and brand awareness, the basic and simplified focus for a multi-channel strategy is the best option for you. However, if creating the best possible customer experience and raising brand awareness is your goal, omnichannel retail uses analytics to understand customer shopping preferences better.

As a result, you make purchases easier for your customers while presenting a consistent experience across all touchpoints. It’s not just about shopping channels but all interactions with your brand, from social media to Amazon and Google ads to shopping on your own eCommerce platform.