Deciphering the Difference Between Multi-channel and Omni-channel

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With any industry or new technology comes buzzwords. In the world of eCommerce two very common buzzwords are multi-channel and omni-channel. They may sound similar and they do share common facets of sales using several physical and digital platforms. However, it’s important to understand the difference between them.

Defining omni-channel

Before we decipher the bigger differences of multi-channel and omni-channel, let’s start with the basic definitions. The root omni means “all” and multi means “many.” Therefore, omni-channel eCommerce represents all sales channels that are available for the consumer. Not only are they available, but they are connected and integrated in a specific manner. This means that all sales and marketing efforts come together to unify the shopping experience for your company’s brand.

Defining multi-channel

Multi-channel refers to many channels and it is not as unified as omni-channel strategies. Even though it is not as integrated, it still lets customers interact on a few different platforms. Multi-channel is best envisaged with a company who has a main retail platform, such as a brick-and-mortar store and then a website channel is created. Often, companies dealt with multi-channel operations in separate divisions; there would be a nominated department for web sales and in-store sales. Each section would have different budgets and set different revenue targets.

What are the differences?

The fundamental difference between omni-channel and multi-channel is how the customer experience is integrated across the platform. As you see with the multi-channel example, it operates in a silo. Each channel performs in a standalone fashion, rarely integrating with the other section.

The inventory control for each facet will be managed differently. Under multi-channel operations, the online shop will generally have a different inventory control system than the brick-and-mortar store. Essentially, the online operations and the store front are managed as separate business entities, therefore their inventory control situations are separate. If you buy an item from the online store, you usually need to return it to the online store. The same goes for brick-and-mortar purchases.

Omni-channel focuses on customer experience and enhancing their interactions throughout the sales process. Lots of airlines have frequent flyer point systems. Points can be gained through flights, purchases made through a loyalty card, and a variety of other schemes. Customers can receive information about their frequent flyer points on the airline’s website, on their app, on social media, through email and more. They track information about your flight purchases, when you’ve asked for refunds, personal details and other key customer data that helps them cater marketing to you. Sometimes you’ll even call the airline and they will have already identified you and your frequent flyer account just based on the phone number you’re calling from.

Omni-channel platforms do a good job at unifying these interactions. Where ever a customer interacts with the brand, it will be streamlined and can cross multiple channels seamlessly. There has been a lot of thought put into unifying the customer experience and making it user-friendly.

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Melanie - Unleashed Software

Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.

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