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Key Differences Between Omnichannel and Multichannel

Who remembers when a business consisted of a brick-and-mortar store equipped with a telephone and a postal address? It was a time when doing business was simpler, but nobody is looking back with regret. The tools and technologies we have at our disposal today, while adding complexity, allow us to do so much more. And, with new methods, new terminology is sure to flourish. 

In today’s post, we’ll compare the terms “omnichannel” vs “multichannel”: related terms that nevertheless have different meanings. You’ll use them in different ways too. For example, you can prefix them as descriptions of how you approach marketing, communication, customer support and sales – and you’re probably doing at least one of them already. So, are you omnichannel or multichannel? Our descriptions should clarify this for you. 

What is Multichannel?

Most businesses these days are multichannel. The “channels” are the “places” where their businesses are active. For example, they have a store or stores, but they also work through their websites, make and take phone calls, send and receive emails, and are active on social media. Perhaps they throw a few extras into the mix, for instance, a mobile app. 

You can visualise a multichannel model as a diagram with your business at the centre, and all the different channels you use surrounding it and linking to your business. Keep this picture in mind. It will become important when comparing multichannel to omnichannel.  

Advantages and Shortcomings of Multichannel

If you’re multichannel, you’re able to reach customers and generate awareness across each of the channels you use. The biggest advantage of this is that you stand a good chance of gaining customers because you have better visibility – and, you can engage with these customers on each of the channels you use. 

But, there’s a big problem: your channels all “talk” to you and your customers, but they don’t “talk” to each other. This means that it can be hard to gauge what messages are resonating with your customers since they can switch channels throughout the process leading up to a sale. 

It also affects customer experiences because every time they switch channels, they have to start at square one again. And, since you have so many different things to monitor and so many places where information is hiding, there’s no way you can do it any differently – unless you switch to an omnichannel model.

What is Omnichannel?

Omnichannel is similar to multichannel in that you use multiple channels to market your products, talk to customers, and sell goods. But there, the resemblance ends. 

Take the mental picture we created when discussing multichannel. Now, place your customer in the centre, and overlap all the channels. The first big difference? Your customer is at the centre of things! And, because all the channels overlap, your customers can switch channels and simply resume their interaction with your business right where they left off. 

Omnichannel Example

For an example, we can look to one of our clients: Virgin Wines. Although the wines are, of course, excellent, you’ll find that one of the top reasons for its 4.5 star Trustpilot rating is customer service.

Customers are especially delighted with how well service agents “know” them, even contacting them when a particularly exciting wine they’ll like becomes available. While sales are made, real relationships are built – and they have an omnichannel foundation. Apart from the company’s website, there’s an app, social media presence across platforms, and more. Yet, representatives are able to personalise service to individual people – rather than individual, siloed platforms. That’s omnichannel in action!

Advantages of Omnichannel

It’s easy to see that visibility and reach are shared advantages in omnichannel vs multichannel marketing and sales. But omnichannel takes it a step further, allowing you to craft customer journeys across overlapping platforms and channels. As the facts and figures show, this is extremely important. 

McKinsey says that over 50 percent of people engage using 3 to 6 channels every single time they make a purchase. Going omnichannel allows them to interact with businesses in a way that’s relevant to their current position in the customer journey, reducing effort. You may have heard that customer effort is an important customer experience metric. It is! The easier it is for customers to complete a purchase, the more satisfied they’ll be, and making it hard could even mean you lose customers along the way. 

Gartner found that 62 percent of consumers say that switching channels is high-effort – but if you’re using an omnichannel strategy, you’ll be in the 38 percent that make doing business easy – regardless of any channel transitions. That translates to better revenue and a higher chance of repeat purchases. 

At the same time, you’ll be getting more accurate data on customer behaviour, helping you to evaluate and improve your marketing, sales, and service efforts. And of course, that means even more sales and even more satisfied customers.

Disadvantages of Omnichannel 

So far, so good. But what’s the downside? There are reasons why not everyone is going omnichannel, and first among these is the technology and infrastructure it requires. Implementing omnichannel can be complex, and you won’t realise all of its benefits without good management to drive it. Research indicates that successful omnichannel implementation often requires organisational restructuring – and a change process that can be painful and hard to manage. 

Going Omnichannel: Is There a Simple Solution?

While most businesses today are multichannel, there are clear advantages to transitioning to omnichannel. And, as with so many things involving costly tools and extensive data analysis and reporting, outsourcing is often the key. 

Outsourced omnichannel support that joins the dots between different steps on customer journeys, no matter which channel they’re using is a great place to get started. Without making any material changes to your business itself, you get access to expertise, and those all-important analytics that help you to see what works for you and your customers and what doesn’t. At the same time, your customers get unparalleled service. What could be better?

Considering the transition to omnichannel business? Start by talking to RSVP, a London-based customer service company that specialises in omnichannel communications. We focus on your customers – and we give you the information you need to build an even more successful business. 


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