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Omnichannel vs Multichannel: What’s the difference

There are clear differences between multichannel and omnichannel buying journeys. In this article we define omnichannel vs. multichannel and what they mean for ecommerce and retail.

14 June, 2022
 ·  6 minutes

Switching between devices and mediums has become as easy as taking a breath. Technology allows us to seamlessly navigate online and offline spaces to access our finances, do our jobs, and maintain our social lives.

Since life takes place across so many different channels, it makes sense to let your customers buy when and where their intention is high. Rather than make them come to you, it pays to adopt an omnichannel or multichannel approach to ecommerce that gives your customer the freedom to define their own journey.

As you’re trying to navigate different ways to create seamless customer journeys that convert, you’ll find that the terms omnichannel and multichannel tend to be used interchangeably. Not only does this add to the confusion, but the differences between multi- or omnichannel buying journeys are clear. The first focuses on offering multiple channels, and the second on the customer experience of moving between channels.

Let’s dive deeper into the similarities and differences between multichannel and omnichannel strategies for ecommerce and retail.

What is multichannel?

The word multichannel describes something that can take place on multiple channels. If you adopt a multichannel approach, your customer can choose to engage on their preferred channel. This engagement can be a payment, marketing campaign, or browsing a retail collection.

In a multichannel journey, none of the channels are integrated. When you decide to add another channel to the journey, you need to create an entire customer journey specific to the channel.

Even though the different channels all connect to your brand, the customer experience is isolated to the channel your customer engages with at that point in time. This means you have to create a consistent but separate experience for each channel.

Example of a multichannel journey

An example of a multichannel purchase journey is when a customer sees an ad for your latest collection in the subway. They then go to your social media to check out more items and end up on your online store to find specific product details. When they decide they want to try something, they can visit your store, see if the article is present in their size and make their purchase.

What is omnichannel?

A multichannel approach might allow your customers to interact with your store on their chosen channel, but it doesn’t connect the dots. If you want to upgrade your multichannel customer journeys to a personalized, tailored experience that stretches across channels, the next step is omnichannel.

An omnichannel shopper journey can flow between channels and continue where your customer left off. By connecting different channels, shoppers can start their journey on one channel and finish on another without a hitch.

Setting up an omnichannel buying journey isn’t just nice to have. Customers want the flexibility to choose which channel suits them at a particular moment. According to our 2022 Retail Report, 61% of consumers would be more loyal to a retailer that allows them to buy things online and return in-store.

Example of an omnichannel journey

An omnichannel journey can be as simple as a customer ordering online and returning in-store or checking stock online before visiting a brick-and-mortar location. The different channels connect to create a customer facing experience that allows the customer to pick up their purchase journey where they left off on a different channel.

The final level: unified commerce

An omnichannel experience may feel like a cohesive and consistent one to the customer. But things might not run so smoothly under the hood. An omnichannel journey is built to streamline customer-facing channels, but what goes on in the backend is often messy and confusing.

Every channel you add to the frontend of your ecommerce or retail business adds to a jungle of mismatched business functionalities, legacy applications, and disconnected data insights. And complexity can quickly impede on your business gains, especially if a messy backend starts to affect the frontend experience.

Luckily, you can level up your omnichannel setup to one that integrates all customer-facing and backend systems via a centralized platform.

This final level is called unified commerce. Unified commerce can consolidate all your payment systems and data across every channel on one single platform, making it far easier to embrace emerging technologies that help you scale your business and deliver better customer experiences, regardless of channel or region.

By feeding all your data into a single platform, identifying your customers’ needs becomes a piece of cake.

One way to achieve unified commerce is to consolidate payments data from all customer-facing and backend systems within a centralized platform. By treating different channels as building blocks in the customer journey, it becomes a whole lot easier to spot your customer’s needs and embrace emerging technologies that help you scale your business quickly.

Example of unified commerce

A shopper made it to your store and spotted what they were looking for, only to discover that the right color or size is not in stock. Rather than them running to the competition the moment they leave, you can help them complete the purchase with endless aisle capabilities. With this set-up, a shopper can browse stock in your store and get the item delivered to their home the next day while picking up another item right then and there.

Because of the unified setup of the front- and backend of your business, the customer enjoys a seamless experience while you get a holistic view of your customer’s purchases.

Read more about how local Australian brand R.M. Williams powers a unified commerce shopping and payments experience.

Make every customer interaction count with unified commerce

While a multichannel customer journey sets the benchmark for modern customer experiences, it’s only the first step. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, especially in a fast-paced, digitalized world. With every new channel or device we integrate into our lives, we shift our focus faster than a Formula One driver changes gears. And all you can do as a business is keep pace.

That's why an omnichannel strategy is key. By adopting a strategy that allows customers to move between channels, you set yourself up to adapt to new channels and ways of customer communication.

But why stop at providing your customer the ease and experience of an omnichannel journey if you can reap the benefits of unifying the front- and backend of your business? Unified commerce lets you record any customer interactions on a single solid foundation, so you can easily recognize and cater to shoppers across multiple channels.

Payments play a vital role in the implementation and success of unified commerce. By consolidating all your payment systems and data across every channel, whether in-person, online, or in-app, you can better identify your customers, understand their needs, and facilitate seamless cross-channel experiences.

Want to learn more about unified commerce and the benefits to your business? Discover what simplifying your business entails and get in touch.

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