What’s The Difference Between Multi-Channel & Omnichannel Retail?

I’ll illustrate the difference between multi-channel retail and omnichannel retail with a simple story.

Imagine you arrive at work one morning, and without thinking you jump out of your car forgetting that your cell phone is in your lap—or, was in your lap. Now, it’s doing somersaults across a strip of pavement. Fearing the worst, you nervously reach for your phone only to discover that the device itself is unharmed—but the phone’s case is shot. So, you head to the electronics store on your break and find yourself staring at a giant wall of smartphone cases.

Each case is marketed as having its own unique perks—how do you know which one is right for you? This is where omnichannel retail differs from multi-channel retail. Using your smartphone, you scan several QR codes that direct you to specific product review pages. After narrowing your search to a handful of cases, you launch Facebook to get a better idea of online sentiment surrounding the brands, and you find a post promoting an extended warranty offer for one of the products. A store associate confirms that the deal is still valid.

Moments later, you leave the store confident with your purchase. Easy. With the sheer amount of information available to consumers at all times, this scenario plays out countless times each day.

This new level of technological empowerment is forcing retailers to combine and synchronize every aspect of their brand presence in order to achieve a degree of Customer Experience not possible with a multi-channel mentality.

Let’s Break Down Omnichannel Retail Even Further

If you understand the fundamentals of multi-channel retail, omnichannel shouldn’t be anything especially groundbreaking.

Simply put, omnichannel retail achieves a greater consistency of Customer Experience by seamlessly integrating the brand’s presence across all possible channels, digital or otherwise. Where multi-channel retail introduced ecommerce, mobile commerce, social networking, and other technology together to the traditional in-store shopping experience, omnichannel retail combines them all to create a sort of “shopping ecosystem” in which consumers can shift from one channel to another while accessing the same exact features and information.

Evolving from multi-channel retail to omnichannel retail finally puts the customer at the center of the equation, allowing for customers to fully satisfy the desire for greater convenience when finding, researching, and ultimately purchasing products. Mobile is one of the pillars of omnichannel retail—with handheld access to any and all product data, consumers are increasingly researching products both in and out of bricks-and-mortar retail stores

  • According to a Google survey, 65% of mobile users say they use their mobile device to find businesses for in-store purchases.
  • On top of this, a JiWire Mobile Audience Insights Report found that 31% of consumers research a product through a mobile device before buying it in-store.
  • Specific to iPhone users, iModerate Research Technologies found that over 70% of iPhone users report using store apps and mobile web browsers to help them shop once they’re in the store, with another 41% opting make the final purchase through that device.

With these trends only expected to grow, reorienting the retail environment to align with consumer convenience is quickly becoming unavoidable for businesses hoping to stay relevant in the marketplace. Just having information available online is no longer enough as customers transform their shopping habits into a well-oiled technology-driven routine.

The Evolution of Omnichannel Retail

Before the Internet opened the door to the various retail channels universally available to consumers today, retailers only had to contend with two channels: stores and catalogs. Then, when ecommerce first made a splash, retailers created wholly separate online web spaces for users to purchase online.

With the rise of social media, companies began establishing Facebook, Twitter and other social nodes for outreach. But without integrating these channels, inconsistencies often arose when customers attempted to use more than one channel from which to shop. Products shown on ecommerce channels would turn out to be unavailable in-store, items available on e-commerce platforms would go missing on mobile sites…and the list went on and on.

Retailers have now begun to realize these inconsistencies are turning shoppers off in a big way. Omnichannel retail strategies were born out of a larger emphasis on superior Customer Experience—or as we call it, the defining trait of a world class brand.