Multichannel vs. omnichannel: What is the difference in business?


multichannel vs omnichannel marketing

When it comes to multichannel vs. omnichannel, what exactly are their differences in business and marketing? Omnichannel retail, think of it as the superhero of selling, offers products through various avenues like websites, physical stores, and mobile apps.

On the other hand, multichannel is similar but might not offer as many buying options. Imagine it as a solid sidekick. Both have their strengths, and there’s no need to declare a winner. What’s clear is that relying on just one sales channel won’t cut it anymore. 

In this article, we’ll break down the differences between these strategies and help you understand why omnichannel marketing is the buzzword every savvy seller should know and adopt.


What is Multichannel Marketing?

Multichannel marketing means using different ways to promote your brand and connect with customers during their shopping journey. It involves using various channels, like emails or social media, to engage shoppers and create links between these channels. These connections help your brand stay in touch with customers.

For instance, a multichannel marketing plan might involve sending reminder emails to customers who abandoned items in their online shopping carts. It can also pave the way for omnichannel marketing, which we’ll discuss in more detail later.

How does multichannel marketing work?

Multichannel marketing is effective by connecting the different ways your customers engage with your brand. Consider the various touchpoints where customers interact with you: in physical stores, online shopping, and through advertisements. These are the places to start integrating your multichannel strategy and messaging.

To succeed, plan how to create a smooth and engaging experience for customers while using your time and resources efficiently. It’s also crucial to avoid repeating the same information in your multichannel messaging. The aim is to enhance the customer journey across channels like social media, streaming ads, and brick-and-mortar stores.


What is Omnichannel Marketing?

Omnichannel marketing is a strategy that unifies all your brand’s channels to create a seamless and complete experience for customers. This approach covers every stage of the customer journey, from initial awareness at the top of the marketing funnel to post-purchase interactions. It’s a more extensive and integrated version of multichannel marketing, where all channels work together in a unified strategy.

How does omnichannel marketing work?

Omnichannel marketing sets itself apart from multichannel marketing by seamlessly integrating all available channels into your advertising strategy. While omnichannel is a comprehensive approach that covers all channels, it’s important to note that not all multichannel strategies meet the criteria of being omnichannel.

Omnichannel marketing goes beyond just customer-focused content. For instance, in an omnichannel campaign, advertisements are synchronized across various platforms such as social media promotions, banner ads in newsletters, and in-store posters. Additionally, it can involve automating the processes for tracking analytics, performance metrics, and measuring sales outcomes.


What is the difference between omnichannel vs multichannel marketing?

The primary difference lies in the scope of channels involved: multichannel marketing involves a limited selection of content channels, while omnichannel marketing covers all available channels. The term “multichannel” means “many channels,” whereas “omnichannel” means “all channels.”

You can think of omnichannel marketing as covering the entire customer journey map, while multichannel marketing is more like focusing on a specific point from A to B.

Moreover, multichannel marketing places a greater emphasis on engagement within the different channels, whereas omnichannel marketing prioritizes customer comprehension and strives to create a seamless experience.

Considering the retail aspect, multichannel retail involves distributing products through various channels. For example, it includes selling goods on a website and in a physical store simultaneously.

Omnichannel retail, however, takes it further by considering the needs of customers and reaching them where they are, through all available channels. For instance, that could include integrating ads into at-home streaming experiences, rather than waiting for them to visit a store. Multichannel retail is a straight line from the brand to the customer, whereas the path of omnichannel retail is more fluid or circular.


1) Customer engagement vs customer experience

A critical distinction between multichannel and omnichannel marketing lies in their primary goals. Multichannel marketing primarily focuses on engaging customers and widening the reach to make more people aware of a business. In contrast, omnichannel marketing centres on enhancing the customer experience for those who are already aware of and engaging with a business. 

In summary, multichannel aims to expand awareness, while omnichannel strives to provide a consistent and seamless experience for existing customers.

2) Channel centric vs customer centric

Another fundamental difference lies in the approach to channels: multichannel is channel-centric, while omnichannel is customer-centric.

Multichannel marketing aims to maximize the number of channels used to promote a brand, offering customers a wide array of choices in how they engage with the business. The more channels available, the more options customers have.

On the other hand, omnichannel marketing places the customer, not the channel, at the centre. The primary focus is on providing an optimal experience as customers switch between channels, eliminating any friction between different digital touchpoints.

In the context of retail, for instance, a multichannel approach would involve a multitude of channels like websites, SEO, paid advertising, billboards, TV and radio ads, emails, social media, and even phone calls.

In contrast, an omnichannel focus would streamline these to a select few, such as websites, email, and social media, ensuring that they are seamlessly interconnected to facilitate customer transitions between them.

3) Quantity vs quality

Another critical difference between multichannel and omnichannel strategies pertains to the number of contact channels versus the quality of support provided through these channels. In a multichannel approach, the emphasis is on increasing the number of available channels, with the belief that more channels are better. This broadens the reach and allows customers to select their preferred method of engagement.

However, there’s typically no effort to integrate or link these channels, which means that when customers switch between them, they often have to start over. This lack of synchronization can impact the quality of customer support.

For example, if a customer encounters login issues and decides to call customer services for assistance, the phone agent guides them through the password reset process. After the call ends, the customer begins following the steps but encounters an unexpected issue not mentioned by the agent.

They believe that providing a visual, such as a screenshot, would be more effective, so they decide to contact customer service via email this time. However, because the email and phone channels are not synchronized in a multichannel setup, the customer is required to explain their problem all over again in the email, leading to potential frustration and a less efficient support experience.

In an omnichannel approach, the primary focus is on providing consistent and high-quality support across all of a business’s channels. Customers can choose any available channel with the confidence that the support they receive will maintain the same level of quality. It’s important to note that the consistency is in terms of quality, not necessarily the type of support.

In an omnichannel strategy, different contact channels are intentionally varied to handle the various types of support a customer might require. For instance, a simple inquiry can be efficiently addressed through a live chat interaction, while more complex issues related to editing a shopping basket might necessitate a more visual form of support, such as video chat or co-browsing.

The key to ensuring consistent quality in an omnichannel approach is the integration of all the offered channels. Unlike a multichannel setup, an omnichannel strategy enables customers to transition seamlessly between different channels without the need to repeat their entire situation.

Using the forgotten password example, when the customer switches from a phone call to email, they don’t have to re-explain the entire issue. This seamless transition is facilitated by recording and sharing relevant details of the customer’s interaction across channels, often through a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

This way, the agent handling the email inquiry can access the information from the previous phone call, providing valuable context for a more effective and efficient response.


How do you choose between a multichannel and an omnichannel marketing?

Your marketing strategy should be determined by your primary business goals. If you’re aiming to achieve specific brand-related goals, then multichannel strategies may be beneficial. Conversely, if your focus is on enhancing the overall customer experience, adopting an omnichannel strategy can contribute to a more comprehensive improvement.

Moreover, the resources at your disposal are a critical factor in this decision-making process. Smaller brands might find it challenging to implement a fully-fledged omnichannel strategy right away. In such cases, starting with incremental steps within a multichannel approach is a pragmatic way to gradually build momentum.

You don’t have to launch a website, email newsletter, social media presence, and marketing campaigns all simultaneously. Initially concentrating on individual channels or “silos” and introducing updates over time can be a strategic approach.

In fact, there isn’t a single correct answer, and you aren’t limited to choosing just one approach. Multichannel and omnichannel strategies can also complement each other, depending on your business goals and available resources.

What’s the best approach? 

Customer experience holds immense importance for any business or organization and should remain a central focus. In light of this, an omnichannel approach is superior to a basic multichannel approach.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expand the range of channels through which you interact with your customers. In fact, it’s essential for a business to be present where their customers are and to provide preferred engagement channels as a means of differentiating themselves from competitors. 

It’s important to note that an omnichannel approach is still a multichannel approach, as it offers customers multiple contact and marketing channels. The key distinction lies in the way all these channels are integrated and treated as interconnected parts of a unified whole, rather than isolated and separate entities.


Final takeaways 

All in all, the differences between multichannel and omnichannel strategies comes down to the level of integration and customer-centricity. Omnichannel puts the customer at the heart of the business, weaving together various touchpoints for a seamless shopping experience. Multichannel, while still effective, lacks the same level of integration and personalization.

Both approaches have their merits and complexities, but with the right technology and careful planning, businesses can thrive in the ever-evolving world of retail. The key is recognizing that in today’s landscape, embracing multiple channels is not just an option but a necessity to meet customer expectations and stay competitive.

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