In the world of today’s retail experience where ecommerce, social media, and brick and mortar shopping seem to overlap, omnichannel and multichannel may be the keys to improving customer experience—an advantage we know pays off.

But what do these buzzwords mean and what are the key differences between multichannel and omnichannel? More importantly, why do they matter to your ecommerce business?

First off, we need a clear understanding of the word Channel.

What does channel mean in marketing?

In marketing, a channel is a medium through which your brand communicates to its target customer. It’s the way that you share your message. Your website, for example, is a channel of communication. Other channels can include your social media pages, your physical store, a poster, and even your packaging.

The reason we are talking about multichannel and omnichannel marketing is that in most cases, using one channel is no longer enough, and businesses today are employing a combination of platforms to reach more customers with their message that is amplified across a variety of platforms.

This is done either through the employment of a multichannel or omnichannel strategy. Let’s discuss the difference below:

What is multichannel marketing?

When a brand engages in multichannel marketing, this means that they use not one, but several media channels to cast a wide net to further their marketing message.

This includes the use of email, social media pages, blogs, billboards, print, and even television marketing. 

The goal with multichannel marketing is to interact with as many target customers as possible across different media to achieve a marketing campaign with a far reach across the field. This may be considered as a great way to achieve brand and product awareness because the main focus of multichannel marketing comes down to customer engagement.

The key thing to take away when it comes to multi-channel marketing is that the media channels used are separate and do not necessarily interact or relate with each other in terms of customer data sharing across channels. There isn't necessarily any continuity across touchpoints or platforms that your customer might engage with.

It’s important to note that the multichannel approach is considered to be a system that is considered to have separate shopping ecosystems across the various channels employed.

If you're looking for something more collaborative, this is where omnichannel marketing comes in.

What is omnichannel marketing?

While the aim of multichannel marketing is about how many customers you can engage with, omnichannel marketing puts the user experience and customer journey front and center.

Omnichannel retail is an approach that focuses on providing a seamless customer experience across all sales channels, whether the client is shopping online or in a brick-and-mortar store. Effective omnichannel retailing is vital because it maximizes customer conversions on each channel by ensuring a consistent experience across platforms.

This strategy zeroes in on a unified experience and integrates the various channels so that customers get a smooth experience no matter what channel they are using. 

This also means that customers can switch from one channel to the other seamlessly. Whether your customer is interacting with your brand through your website, social media, on mobile, or in a physical store, an omnichannel approach aims for the customer experience to be unified. Your customer can connect with you through any available channel that stays updated to the last action your customer had at each touchpoint, creating a fully integrated experience because your channels “talk” back and forth to each other.

Here is an example of what the omnichannel experience may be like for an ecommerce store:

  1. A customer searches for graphic t-shirts and comes across your website.
  2. They sign up but ignore the 10% off coupon, add items to cart, then ultimately abandons the site before purchasing.
  3. A process is triggered to retarget the prospective customer and send a 15% coupon email, which is also ignored.
  4. At the same time another process is triggered to show your prospective customer ads across Facebook, Instagram, and maybe even YouTube, including the coupon. The ads show different ways that the customer can order your product, from in-store pickup and or online purchase with shipping. The customer decides to follow through with their purchase because they've found their preferred channel.
  5. The customer goes back to the site where their data is saved, uses the 15% discount, and ops for in-store pick up the next day.

Thus completing the customer journey across a variety of channels that included the website, email, social media, and the physical store. The goal here was to remove friction across different touchpoints in the customer’s journey.

Key Takeaway

Omnichannel marketing and multichannel marketing can be a little confusing to comprehend at first, considering how the words can seem very similar, but the key difference is that omnichannel strategies revolve around the customer while being mindful of the customer journey, while multichannel strategy revolves around having many channels and is product centric.

Choosing between a multichannel and an omnichannel approach can largely depend on your goals, and who knows, maybe you can even entertain the thought of a hybrid approach.

What’s clear is that in today’s world, one channel is simply not enough. Your target customer wants to shop on their own terms, to be able to explore what you have to offer across different devices, beginning their journey in one handheld device, and choosing to end it on a different platform. It’s our job as merchants to facilitate the kind of seamless customer experiences that they are after by interacting with our brand. 

Remember, it’s no longer about waiting for customers to come to you, it’s about meeting your customers wherever they may be.

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