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The difference between Omnichannel and Multichannel approach

“Omnichannel” is a buzzword that has been around for about seven years; but it is often confused with the term “multichannel” when it comes to the retail world. There is no doubt that omnichannel is the future of commerce and every retailer needs to be ready for it. Now, most retailers are multichannel because they sell products/services across more than one channel but very few are truly omnichannel.

Both multichannel and omnichannel mean selling across multiple physical and digital channels. The major difference however is how the customer experiences are joined up across channels. With multichannel the retailer usually has a website and store, however there is no interaction between these two channels. Stores have their own stock that is sold directly to customers. The same situation applies to the website. Purchases from the customer in stores can only be returned in store and there are cases where online orders cannot be returned in-store. Another key element as well is a different interaction that customers receive online or in-store. Therefore, it seems like there are two different entities.

However, consumers do not define brands by different entities. During their customer journey, they interact with the retailer at multiple touchpoints, each one of which has a significance for them; and this journey through the different channels that should be seamless. However, all consumers mention the same thing - they cannot understand why these experiences are so different. They want to have a unified experience whether this takes place online, through social media, on mobile or in-store.As a result, it impacts the customer experience

Omnichannel elements within retail businesses can be “click and collect” while, they try to embrace this new reality. For example, Office shoes have a solution that allows users to make purchases for items that are available online when they are in-store or to make the stock of the store available online.

A true omnichannel experience occurs when a customer can interact with your business in an integrated way at any time through the customer journey.


Missguided is one of the few UK retail businesses that provides an excellent omnichannel experience. A great highlight is the mobile app that it brought revenue £30 million pounds in just four months after launch and boasts a 30% higher conversion rate than their mobile website. The impressive result was combined with the 4.7 average star rating on the Apple store. However, one of the most impressive things is how the App is integrated into omnichannel operations anywhere on the website.

Omnichannel strategy goes beyond the shopping basket and some of the highlights are:

  1. Click and collect’ technology enabling you to buy on a mobile app or website and collect in-store.
  2. The possibility to buy on any channel and check your order status on any other one.
  3. Synced products and stock across all relevant on and offline channels.
  4. The ability to return products in-store – regardless if products bought online or via mobile originally

So, what are the problems that do not allow the integration between the channels?

  1. Cost and ROI: They are the biggest barriers to the implementation. Retailers may have a physical presence with a customized POS (Point of Sale) system while their order management and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems should be highly integrated through their internal process. It is true that Omnichannel requires investment and business changes. In some cases, it requires replacements of legacy systems and it needs commitment and vision to be successful.
  2. Availability of technology: A few companies offer technology solutions that cover all the areas that an omnichannel business demands. For example, POS solutions offered for web or mobile capabilities such as, SAP Hybris which offers customized solutions for the POS integration. Although demand and innovation are driving the technology we still have a long way to go.
  3. Culture: It is one of the crucial elements of the implementation. Any kind of digital transformation requires every member of the business to embrace and adopt those changes. In a multichannel world, retailers need to understand that digital business competition; whether there you have staff in-store or staff that deals with the online customer journey.

In the future, and even though, there are few retailers that have fully embraced the omnichannel system, expectations from consumers have started to force brands to invest in technology and bring about a cultural change. The reason for this investment is that multichannel adds barriers to those customers that they want to make their own journey, which simply means that businesses stay behind in the competition.  There will be more affordable solutions that will tear down the gap that exists and allow consumers to make their journey. E-commerce platforms will continue to offer in-store solutions while integrating with other channels. In addition, payment providers will need to collaborate to evolve omnichannel payments such as the AndroidPay and ApplePay.