Knowing the difference between omnichannel and multichannel customer experiences is important. Especially if you’re in retail.
If you’re using the terms interchangeably, your retail marketing approach may need more strength and organization. Brands that adopt a multichannel approach treat channels (e.g. email, social media, in-store) as if they’re separate entities. For these companies, the customers’ in-store experience is out of sync with their online experience.
On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal. But problems can arise when customer experiences aren't consistent. Due to the complexities of online-to-offline commerce, omnichannel marketing comes into play most often with brands that sell both through ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores.
So, what is the difference between omnichannel and multichannel retail marketing strategies? We’ll go over both and uncover questions you should ask yourself when choosing one or the other to create successful customer experiences.
Multi-channel vs omnichannel: What’s the difference?
Modern consumers expect a seamless and customized experience every time they research a product or service. No matter the brand, touchpoint, or device, your customers want to feel like you’re with them every step of the way.
Let’s define the difference between a multichannel and omnichannel approach to customer experience:
What is multichannel?
Multichannel marketing describes interacting with potential customers through several channels. These could include both online and offline platforms like social media, landing pages, websites, mobile apps, direct mail, radio, and print ads.
Every channel operates independently. There might be one goal and strategy for Facebook and a different one for a company’s website. An email campaign might cater to one target audience while a direct mail approach is designed for a unique demographic.
Operating on a single channel is unheard of in today’s marketplace. That's because about 86% of shoppers regularly channel-hop across a minimum of two channels.
A multichannel marketing and customer service approach still meets consumer demand. Just not in the same way that an omnichannel approach does.
What is omnichannel?
An omnichannel approach also involves interacting with consumers via various channels. But instead of having a unique strategy for each channel, omnichannel marketing focuses on creating an integrated experience in real time.
Some companies think multichannel marketing achieves the same goals as omnichannel. But customers who respond to omnichannel marketing aren't as responsive with multichannel marketing. When shopping in a physical store, 71 percent of consumers who do online research on their smartphones say that their device has become important to the in-store experience. While multichannel marketing also enables this, consumers may feel as if they’re being pulled in two directions by the different marketing approaches.
Yes, there are certainly similarities between multichannel and omnichannel marketing. But the biggest difference to be aware of is how tightly the customer experience is knit together between channels. Multichannel is more of an afghan, with plenty of space and openings between the threads. Though connected, multichannel touchpoints are not tightly grouped together. With omnichannel marketing, every thread is pulled tight, making it impossible for consumers to separate channels.
The main difference between omnichannel and multichannel is found in customer touchpoints.
Five questions to ask when deciding between multichannel and omnichannel marketing
The marketing approach that’s right for one target audience can turn off another. There’s no set rule per industry, product, or service either. This makes finding the best approach for your unique business a bit of a conundrum. Luckily, you can help find the best marketing approach for your business by asking—and answering—the following five questions.
1. What do your customers want?
What do your customers think of your current ecommerce marketing approach? If you haven’t asked, there’s no better time than the present. There are a few ways to do this.
Send out a questionnaire to your email list, put out a survey on Facebook, or offer a discount to customers who fill out an in-depth inquiry about their personalized experience with your brand.
If you’re asking for feedback and only hearing crickets, customer data and analytics can help you figure out if your marketing approach is a hit or a bust. When new leads visit your digital channels, are they sticking around? Is there customer engagement? If they don’t make a purchase, are they coming back?
If the numbers add up, there’s a good chance you’re on the right path. But if customers seem to visit a channel and disappear, it might be time to look into switching up your approach.
2. What can my team handle?
Maybe your goal is to outsource all of your marketing tasks. But until then, you have to work with the in-house team you have. Where does your current team’s experience lie?
Asking your marketing department to focus on an omnichannel marketing approach when all they’ve done before is multichannel is like asking someone who repairs lawn mowers to work on your car. While there are similarities, one requires a lot more knowledge and experience.
Applying both multichannel and omnichannel approaches require a good working knowledge of each strategy and uses a good amount of resources from your team.
Before you start applying either one of the strategies, you should ask yourself questions such as:
- Is my team equipped with all of the necessary tools to execute and monitor an omnichannel or multichannel marketing strategy?
- Do we have enough team members who can take responsibility for each channel we want to push?
- What kind of resources would the marketing team need in order to take control of the strategies and create a smooth customer experience?
3. What’s my competition doing?
You should always be aware of what your competition is up to, whether you’re reworking your marketing approach or not. Knowing what’s working for their landing pages, apps, rewards programs, email campaigns, and offline marketing efforts can help you avoid mistakes.
For example, what methods seem to be encouraging social media engagement with your competition? Is the answer contests? Educational videos? Funny memes? What do their websites offer that yours doesn’t? An engaging blog? Chatbots? You don’t have to copy every move the competition makes, but you should always be aware of what your customers are comparing you to.
4. What is my main marketing goal?
For retailers today, it makes the most sense to adopt an omnichannel approach as modern customers are more engaged through various devices and channels.
To figure out your marketing goal, you have to ask yourself questions such as: Do we want to build brand awareness? Or is our goal more about generating a high volume of qualified leads or growing revenue?
Let’s say you want to build brand awareness. If you’re focused on an omnichannel experience, you might work on making sure images on all your channels have something in common (even if it’s just a logo) and making sure clickable buttons and calls to action all sound like they’re coming from the same voice.
If your goal is to generate more leads and traffic to your website or store, you need to focus on creating an omnichannel customer experience that allows buyers to pick up their shopping journey from any channel — whether it’s through an app, in-store, on Facebook, or on the store’s website.
5. What does the future look like in my industry?
By trying to anticipate changes in your industry and changes in your customers’ expectations, you can stay ahead of the competition and create experiences that will leave a lasting impression.
Technology has come a long way over the past decade, and there's no doubt that future changes will make it possible for even the smallest of companies to engage directly with customers—no matter where they are, what they're doing, or what device they're using.
When it comes to ecommerce and retail, omnichannel seems to be gaining popularity due to the changing demands and behaviors of customers. Studies show that retailers are struggling to connect with their customers and deliver. Brands that have picked up on the advantages of implementing an omnichannel strategy have gained much success, including Disney, Sephora, and Timberland.
Do you expect to open more retail stores? If you’re after an omnichannel experience, consider adding tablets in-store for customers to use as virtual assistants throughout their shopping experience. Do you believe consumers will expect more customer service options with new products that are rolling out? Now might be the time to start implementing live chat capabilities.
Which one will it be?
Are you ready to choose between an omnichannel strategy and a multichannel strategy?
If you want to take an omnichannel approach, make sure your team understands it can no longer operate in separate units. They’ll need to make communication and collaboration the pillars of their strategies. And if your business prefers to take a multichannel approach, make sure you have the resources to staff your efforts.
No matter the approach you choose, keep in mind that new channels are just over the technological horizon. Whether you invest in multichannel or omnichannel, make sure you’re ready to grow as new marketing opportunities present themselves—and take a look at Acquire’s whitepapers and ebooks to keep up to date on all things customer service and marketing.