Omnichannel: Mastering Multichannel Retail & Distribution

A tablet with a shopping basket on it held up between the aisles of a grocery store.

In the past, companies have typically had to choose between a handful of different options they could utilize to reach their clientele. In the age of the internet, though, the number of different communication channels available has skyrocketed.

Businesses now have the choice to take advantage of everything from traditional brick-and-mortar stores to e-commerce sites, social media, emails, calls, texts, chats, mobile apps, and trade shows.

This communication complexity has impacted the entire business landscape, with B2B companies typically struggling to pin down the best way to sell to their clients and direct-to-consumer brands nearly drowning in the sea of options available.

Fortunately, a solution has been offered in the form of the omnichannel shopping experience.

What Is Omnichannel?

In its essence, an omnichannel strategy is one that incorporates a coherent and inclusive approach to how a business makes sales. In other words, this all-encompassing method is aimed at integrating all of the channels available.

These “channels” are the different ways or touchpoints through which consumers can connect with your company. These include emails, social media, e-commerce, and brick-and-mortar locations.

An omnichannel approach has proven to be extremely effective thus far. Studies have even found that the more channels an omnichannel customer uses throughout the buying experience, the more money they’re likely to spend.

What Is Multichannel?

Multichannel simply refers to the concept of businesses using multiple channels to make contact with their customers.

Multichannel touchpoints are typically independent of each other, and often require complex systems of multichannel inventory management in order to cater to each separate channel.

How Does Omnichannel Differ from Multichannel?

Both omnichannel and multichannel utilize multiple points of contact to initiate and lead customers through the buying experience.

Nevertheless, there’s one distinct difference between the two and it can be found right in words themselves. While “multi” indicates multiple channels will be used, “omni” takes the concept further, suggesting that all channels available should be incorporated into a single selling strategy. Where multichannel indicates independence, omnichannel quite distinctly refers to the interdependence of the channels being used.

This difference when it comes to omnichannel vs. multichannel is critical.

Multichannel typically revolves around a company developing distinctly different strategies for each channel they use.

An apparel retailer, for instance, might have a multichannel approach that utilizes a brick-and-mortar store and an e-commerce site. Both will function independently and have their own objectives and strategies in spite of their close affiliation under their parent company.

Omnichannel, on the other hand, tries to utilize all channels available by bringing them together into one distinct, unified strategy.

If, for example, the same retailer were to implement an omnichannel strategy, they would bring both channels together, along with others, in order to create an interconnected sales strategy in which all channels complemented and supported one another. This would enable a customer to research a product on their social media, order it on their e-commerce site, and pick it up in-store. All of this would take place as part of a seamless, integrated experience.

An omnichannel approach would also aim to extend both backward and forward, covering the entire customer journey. For instance, asset tracking software might be used to keep tabs on all of the company’s assets across its various channels. Customer service would also be trained to assist in any and all channels that might be used throughout the process of discovering, purchasing, and using a company’s products or services.

What Is the Biggest Challenge of an Omnichannel Strategy?

While an omnichannel approach is growing in popularity, it does pose some inherent concerns. For instance, the difficulty of handling manufacturing and inventory needs when spread across so many touchpoints can be daunting, to say the least. Orchestrating a consistent and positive brand image across various digital and physical channels is also notoriously complicated.

The greatest challenge of all, though, is probably customer service. One set of research reported that 73% of online shoppers think brands tend to prioritize generating sales across their various channels over the need to provide quality and up to date customer service to support them.

The difficulty of keeping customer service informed and effective across such a wide spectrum of channel options is extremely difficult, especially when the goal is to incorporate all available channels into one experience.

What Is the Key to Going Omnichannel?

If a company wants to shift to an omnichannel retailing strategy, it’s important that they do so thoughtfully and with care to the effects that it will have on their existing systems and processes.

The key to going omnichannel with your efforts is to automate as much as possible. Automating manufacturing, asset tracking, inventory management, and all other data-based processes can provide a way to integrate your omnichannel information into a single system that can stretch across all of your channels at once.

This allows you to then focus your efforts and resources on providing unique, quality customer service at every customer touchpoint possible. If this can be done, it will give you a distinct edge over other companies. It will allow you to take advantage of the synergy of an omnichannel strategy while also enabling you to overcome some of the greatest challenges inherent in the still-fledgling concept.

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