Multi-channel retailing means a company sells in multiple online channels (e.g. a web store, marketplaces, and social media). Omni-channel refers to retailers with both a physical and digital presence.
It is a modern approach to commerce that focuses on designing a cohesive user experience for customers at every touchpoint. This differs from traditional marketing, where individual channels were optimized without necessarily taking the whole experience into mind.
That’s one textbook definition. Here’s how other marketing leaders define omni-channel:
Square defines it as: “Meeting people on the channels where they are shopping and buying, whether it’s in a physical store or an online store or on social media, and connecting the dots between those channels. The purpose is to keep customers moving around within the brand ecosystem, with each channel working in harmony to nurture more sales and engagement.”
Hubspot defines it as: “the ability to deliver a seamless and consistent experience across channels while factoring in the different devices that consumers are using to interact with your business.”
Typically, omni-channel retailers aren’t startups. They also aren’t web-only shops, which means they have the capital to put some feet on the ground. That much is clear.
What isn’t, is the idea of seamlessness and retailer sophistication. From that perspective, few retailers today are successfully executing on all of their omni-channel initiatives.
This is because with the momentum toward integrating commerce across channels, there’s one big piece of the puzzle missing: what the consumer wants. Many retailers are just guessing.
Sure, they have proprietary data on how consumers are using their own channels, but ‘omni’ has Latin roots in the omniscient realm, meaning perceiving all things — not just what is happening on your own channel.
Omni-channel marketing, then, becomes more about providing an experience — the omni-channel customer experience — transcending any one medium and simply providing shoppers what they want, when they want.
What we do know though is that nobody today shops exclusively through a single medium. Consumers of all generations buy online, in store and on marketplaces, from legacy retailers and independent brands alike.