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Multi-Channel vs. Omni-Channel Explained

Multi-Channel vs. Omni-Channel Defined

I recently came across a great article by Linda Bustos of Get Elastic who describes the differences between “mutli-channel” and “omni-channel”. Linda also expands on these terms and predicts what the store of the future will look like.

In the early days of e-Commerce, traditional brick-and-mortar and catalog retailers added transactional websites, becoming “multi-channel” retailers. For many, the online “channel” functioned as its own entity with its own systems, even with its own P&L competing against the box store or mail catalog retail division. Some even outsourced e-Commerce – notably Target and Borders, who let Amazon run their online stores for years before taking control in-house. Regardless of the model, online and in-store customer experiences were completely separate.

In recent years, the “multi-channel” concept has morphed into “omni-channel,” these buzzwords often used interchangeably – but they’re not exactly the same concept. If you want to get etymological, multi means “more than two” and omni means “every.” You can operate in as many “channels” as you want, but you’re not an omni-channel business unless there is interconnectedness between every touch point you offer from the perspective of the consumer.

Omni-channel isn’t about pushing in-store customers to buy more online. There’s a myth of the uber-profitable “multi-channel customer” that splurges wherever you accept a credit card. It is about supporting the customer’s shopping needs and preferences, with the online channel as much of a customer service tool as it is an option to purchase from.

Accenture found 73% of North American consumers have show-roomed at least once in the last 6 months, and 49% think integrating stores with online and mobile touch points is where retailers need to improve the shopping experience most.

Today, having a website with transactional capabilities isn’t an option for retailers – it’s an expectation. And having a mobile-friendly site is now table-stakes too, not just as a complementary touch point to the ecommerce site, but as an in-store shopping aid. You can read Linda’s full article here including her predictions on what stores of the future will operate.

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