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Omnichannel vs Multichannel: The Key Difference Every Retailer is Missing

Omnichannel vs Multichannel: The Key Difference Every Retailer is Missing


Omnichannel is no doubt the future of commerce. And every retailer needs to be ready for it.

In fact, consumers are already demanding a more integrated buying experience. With iVend’s Great Omnichannel Expectations Report finding that 57.5% of North American shoppers have used ‘click and collect’ services at least once.

But there’s a world of confusion when it comes to understanding this subject.

And at its root is a fundamental misconception of omnichannel vs multichannel, and the differences between the two. All potentially leaving the average retailer completely unaware that they’re seriously lagging behind the competition.

Omnichannel vs multichannel: The real difference?

When thinking of omnichannel vs multichannel, the common distinction (and mistake) I find retailers make is:

Describing multichannel as basically just selling across multiple channels online. Such as having your own ecommerce store while also listing on the likes of Amazon, eBay, Etsy, etc:

Multichannel vs Omnichannel diagram showing online channels and resources only

And then labelling omnichannel as simply running an ecommerce operation like this alongside having physical stores that customers can walk into.

Multichannel vs Omnichannel Multichannel diagram showing online resources and a physical store

But this is just plain wrong. And neglects to mention a key point:

Those online and offline operations (ecommerce sites, online marketplaces, social media and physical stores) need to integrate with each other at a deep level. Link together. Talk to each other. Become one, well-oiled machine.

Omnichannel vs Multichannel diagram with content showing true omnichannel operation

Basically unifying every sales channel to create a single commerce experience across your entire brand.

A true omnichannel experience

In practice, true omnichannel comes when a customer can interact with your business via an integrated, seamless experience across desktop, mobile, social media, telephone or in-store.

Sales channels would include:

  • Social media.
  • A dedicated mobile app.
  • An ecommerce store that works perfectly across all digital devices.
  • Online marketplaces.
  • Physical retail stores.

Meaning customers can order, fulfil and, if necessary, return from anywhere.

So, for example, people should be able to:

  • Purchase something on a marketplace and be able to check the order status from your digital mobile app or website.
  • Scroll your Instagram feed, buy an item and have it delivered to a local collection point.
  • Browse your physical store, scan an item with your mobile app to add it to their online shopping cart and purchase later at home in their preferred size.
  • Peruse your online store for new styles, explore those outfits on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook before getting an in-store coupon to redeem.

Omnichannel technology providing a consistent experience across different channels

Essentially being able to make any number of interactions along their customer journey, in any combination and on whichever channel is easiest for them at that particular time.

Just a single omnichannel retailer

We analysed 100 different retail operations. And could only find one that passed the true omnichannel test – meaning 99% of retailers we looked at simply aren’t omnichannel.

Missguided are one of the UK’s largest fast fashion retail businesses – and we found that they’re already crushing it when it comes to omnichannel.

One of the major highlights is the Missguided mobile app. In fact, it went from zero to £30 million revenue in just four months after launch and boasts a 30% higher conversion rate than their standard mobile website.

It’s crazy popular too. With a 4.7 average star rating on Apple Store (out of five) from almost 19,000 reviews:

Missguided App Store rating data shows good level of customer engagement

But one of the most impressive things is how this app is part of a deeply integrated omnichannel operation.

I can open the app, browse and add this sweater dress to my basket:

Missguided app shopping cart at start of customer journey

Then open their full desktop website to find my full shopping basket still there:

Missguided online store is different channel but stays consistent with shopping basket

And even click on a Shoppable Post when browsing their Instagram feed:

Missguided Instagram Shoppable Post technology increases customer engagement

Still finding my original sweater dress in my basket when opening up one of these Instagram products:

Missguided Instagram marketing Shopping Cart

But Missguided’s omnichannel strategy goes far beyond a synchronised shopping basket. With some of the further highlights being:

  • ‘Click and collect’ technology available to buy on mobile app or website and collect in-store.
  • Buy on any channel and check order status on any other one.
  • Synced products and stock across all relevant on and offline channels.
  • Return products via in-store, online or mobile – regardless of which platform they were originally bought through.

Why is omnichannel the future?

It’s easy to see how an omnichannel presence resembling something like Missguided’s can increase sales, revenue and customer retention.

But is it that big of a deal? Can you really go as far as saying that it’s the future of retail?

The data suggests so. Emphatically.

A recent Harvard Business Review survey of a massive 46,000 shoppers found that:

  • Only 7% shopped exclusively online.
  • 20% were store-only shoppers.
  • While 73% moved across multiple channels.

And an Aberdeen Group study found that the strongest omnichannel retailers retained an average of 89% of their customers. Compared to a measly 33% for businesses with a weak omnichannel strategy.

While Business Insider claim that consumers interacting with an omnichannel experience spent 4% more in-store and 10% more online.

All these statistics say a lot in the omnichannel vs multichannel debate. But it ultimately comes down to omnichannel giving much more flexibility to interact with a brand – and therefore providing a far superior customer experience.

The three point omnichannel test

With all this in mind, it can be confusing to know whether or not your business is actually omnichannel.

Here are three questions to ask yourself to find out:

  1. Buy everywhere. Can customers buy from more than one sales channel? And have their shopping basket and order status linked between them all?
  2. Deliver everywhere. Can customers choose to have an item delivered to home or work, a local late night collection point/locker or do ‘click and collect’ at a retail store?
  3. Return everywhere. Can customers return items by more than one method? Such as a courier collection, local drop off point or retail store – regardless of which channel they originally bought on.

If you can answer a resounding ‘yes’ to these three questions (and it’s all automated), then there’s a good chance you can count yourself as a true omnichannel retailer.

Foundations of setting up omnichannel

Being able to give this genuine omnichannel customer experience would be music to the ears of pretty much every retailer I can think of.

But getting an operation like this setup is much easier said than done.

It comes down to laying some key foundations. Namely:

  • Deep integrations. All warehouses, stores and sales channels need to talk to each other so that orders, fulfilment and returns can be easily handled in one back office – regardless of where the customer interaction is taking place.
  • Automation of inventory. Stock levels need to be automatically updated across every channel in real-time, so if a sale is made on Amazon then it updates everywhere else.
  • One customer view. A unified, seamless experience is provided on the front-end across every channel. So customers have one basket, account, order history, etc. that’s the same whether they’re interacting on mobile, ecommerce or in-store.

And let’s be real here:

It’s pretty much impossible to manually integrate all these aspects together.

A huge part of the attraction for customers is that everything happens quickly and seamlessly. So they can order something on mobile app in the morning, check its status on desktop at lunchtime and then pick it up from a locker in the evening.

And utilising technology and automation is the only real way to make that happen – i.e. some form of omnichannel order management system.

This is why the trend towards omnichannel is something we at Veeqo have been paying very close attention to for a while.

In fact:

Veeqo is designed with this whole concept in mind. And we’re becoming what I’d say is the world’s first true omnichannel platform – automating and integrating every part of a retail business at a deep level.

It’s where I see the industry rapidly moving towards. And retailers need to get on board or risk losing out – big time.

What are your thoughts on the omnichannel vs multichannel debate? Is omnichannel the future of retail in your eyes? Let us know in the comments below.

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