Your business strategy drives the actions your business will take. Are you a customer-centric company or a product-centric company? In the retail industry, it’s a choice you have to make based on your products and the target customer.
If you do pick customer-centric, you’re probably going to go down the route of omnichannel retailing; if you pick product-centric, you’re choosing multichannel retail. Neither is wrong or right, it’s a choice based on the product and the distribution strategy that works well for your business.
To the customer, no matter what strategy you have, the experience matters the most and both of these options do justice to that experience in their own ways.
Multichannel has been around for years and omnichannel is therefore an evolution of the same. Alas, when comparing the two the biggest difference arises within integration of systems and data. Multichannel functions in silos where data and journeys are kept on the dedicated channel, omnichannel believes in transparency, and therefore customer data and journeys are synchronized across all channels.
It is therefore fair to say that omnichannel is the way of the future. It allows your customer to be the authority within the buying process. Omnichannel retailing will always put the customer experience first. It’s not about the needs of your company. Instead, it’s about positively influencing a customer’s decision using all the channels.
It’s important to remember here that your customer does not see your brand in silos.
Buying any product from a brand store, online store or from an e-commerce website is the same for your customer as long as they are buying the product they desire. According to Forbes, companies that use tools like customer journey maps reduce their cost of service by 15-20% - which is only possible on omnichannel.
What is multichannel retailing?
Let’s begin with what we’re familiar with over the years - multichannel retailing.
Multichannel is a business strategy that offers your customers different sales channels to connect & spread a message about your brand. The channels are separate & don't interact with each other- almost like a hub and spoke model where each channel functions independently.
This reduces the dependency of getting sales from a single channel and uses all the available channels linearly like an online store, brick & mortar store, marketplaces, social media platforms, and another channel to receive, process & fulfill the customer’s order.
For example, Apple's multichannel strategy involves both online and offline sales channels. It includes third-party marketplaces like Amazon, eBay & other country-specific platforms, while an offline channel can be an Apple store and other electronic retail outlets.
While Apple is succeeding at multi-channel, the biggest drawback of multichannel is the lack of personalisation since the customer journey on each spoke is unique, and not connected back to a central database. This can also be a cause of frustration for a buyer. For example, if you buy something online, you can’t exchange it in-store.
What is omnichannel retailing?
Omnichannel retailing is an integrated approach to sales that makes customers the center of the ecosystem, making it easy for them to purchase while adding in an element of delight. It focuses on providing a seamless customer experience across all touchpoints or channels, whether the customer is shopping from a brick-and-mortar store or online from a mobile device or laptop.
It intelligently integrates each touchpoint like ecommerce marketplaces, social media, SMS messaging, personalized email marketing, and wherever your users browse online through retargeting ads to offer the customers exactly what they need, when they need it, on any device.
Omnichannel marketing encourages potential buyers to approach any channel and have a delightful experience on any of them. Businesses that did use omnichannel marketing with 3+ channels had an 18.96% engagement rate, which is three times higher than single-channel strategies.
The number of channels available for omnichannel retailing has expanded in recent years. For example, you can find Instagram stories and posts for e-commerce; Pinterest product pins to purchase products that allow shoppers to buy products without leaving the site.