OmniChannel vs Multi-Channel Selling: What is the Difference and Which is Best for Your Brand?
When it comes to selling online, you’ve likely heard of the eternal debate: omnichannel vs. multi-channel selling. But what do these terms really mean, and is one really better than the other?
Multi-channel selling is essentially what brick-and-mortar retailers have been doing for many years. They likely have a physical location as well as a website. These are two different channels that they can sell-through. They may even have an app, or other commerce channels like a catalog where they can reach prospects. Having these different options, in essence, multiple channels constitutes many different touch points through which they can reach customers.
Omni-channel, on the other hand, is the ability to create a seamless user experience through these different channels. This means if a customer starts the ordering process through their desktop computer and finishes it on their phone, the process that they go through and the experience that they have is the same across all devices and channels.
What are the Differences Between Multi-Channel and OmniChannel?
Many businesses can pull off multi-channel selling without too much difficulty, but these channels are rigid and siloed. They don’t generally communicate with each other or share much in the way of data except some basic customer information.
With multi-channel commerce, a user may have a great experience on the website, but a sub-par experience using the app. In other words, the experience isn’t unified and the customer is left wondering what they should really be expecting.
Omnichannel is harder to do, despite the fact that the benefits of offering the user a great experience are well-known. It’s easier to say than do since it requires a complete change in perception as well as organizational structure in order to achieve, and it can be a time-consuming process fraught with issues if it’s done hastily and without consideration for what the changes and shifts can mean for customers as a whole.
If a company is used to doing things a certain way and following a certain process, it can be difficult to break down the silos and allow for a more open, transparent and complete experience.
What’s more, implementing omnichannel vs multi-channel selling needs a great deal of investment in both the technology behind it as well as changes in the business structure itself. Many businesses are understandably reluctant to make broad, sweeping changes across the core systems they rely on, such as their POS system or ERP system.
In short, in order to be successful, omnichannel selling needs to be directed, planned and launched from the top-down, with everyone involved and everyone working together to create a cohesive vision and implementation.
Another common process that is often shaking up as a result of switching to an omnichannel marketing system is the company culture. Remember all the times that influencers on the internet proudly declared that e-commerce would signify the death knell of brick and mortar stores?
And while in some cases they were right, there are instances such as buy online/pick up in-store where people want the convenience of ordering online merged with the ability to swing by the store on the way home and grab their groceries, or the ability to pay for their coffee through an app and get it made exactly the way they want before they hit the drive-thru.
In some cases, the retail staff looks at the online store as a direct competition. If you’re on the floor and you get paid by commission for orders made in-store, you’re not going to worry much about helping someone that’s just there to price comparison shop and then flock to Amazon to place their order.
To combat this sense of rivalry, omnichannel marketing has to be able to try an order across all touchpoints, from brick and mortar stores to phone to catalog to online if need be. A customer may have a variety of interactions, and a system needs to recognize that these are all parts of the entire user journey and proceed accordingly. And while omnichannel platforms have come a long way, there isn’t yet one full-spectrum system that can do all things for all touchpoints.
What Does the Future Hold for OmniChannel vs Multi-Channel Selling?
In taking into consideration the steps and evolutions a business must go through in order to shift from multi-channel to omnichannel, it’s clear that creating an omnichannel experience is the better option. However, this has to have the buy-in of everyone from the board to the customer service team.
Omni-channel vs multi-channel selling is less of competition of two different methods and more of a natural evolution of one into the other. Tearing down the silos and creating a more open, accessible and clearly defined user journey while allowing that same user the freedom to enjoy an experience that seamlessly shifts from device to device or channel to channel is the reflection of a natural evolution from multi-channel marketing to an omnichannel presence.
And although moving away from multi-channel marketing won’t happen overnight, new technology is starting to take concrete steps toward integrating all of the myriad touchpoints a customer may have on their journey to completing an order. The truth is that no matter how the company wishes they could control and direct the customer’s journey and try to unify the multi-channel selling system into some kind of coherent and identical series of steps, the customer ultimately forges their own path.
By keeping this in mind, you’ll be able to shift your brand mentality to a more open, accommodating and ultimately rewarding customer experience no matter which channel your user ultimately decides to choose.