It is a common misconception that omni-channel and multi-channel are the same thing and simply denote multiple ways in which customers can interact with a company or retailer. However, they are in fact very different and their points of difference should be understood to better the customer experience.
Multi-channel refers to multiple channels of interaction for example having both an online and brick-and-mortar store through which customers can make purchases. The key to understanding this is visualising it from the point-of-view of the customer. The different channels (online and in-store) stay ‘multi’ throughout the customer’s journey. What this means is that if they make a purchase online, they may only be able to receive the item via post and return via the same means. Likewise, if they purchase a product in-store, they may only be entitled to return it to the same store. The channels are kept separate and multiple in nature.
This originates from the concept that customers would stick to one means of interaction and therefore inventory stocks, operations teams and financials were kept separate for the different channels. However, the changing climate in retail which sees mobility, accessibility and convenience at its core makes it necessary to integrate these different channels seamlessly. And that’s where omni-channel retail comes in.
Omni-channel means ‘all channels’ as opposed to ‘multiple channels’ and it operates under the notion that all the company’s sales channels must operate as one. This sounds like a far easier and more efficient process for both the customer and the retailer, however it is exceedingly difficult to achieve. Every single interaction between the customer and the company, from their mobile device, to their computer screen, to the phone call and their visit in-store, must be documented and seamlessly integrated. The idea behind this is that the customer can change channels as they see fit and depending on their needs without the requirement to start at the beginning with a new channel. Their history of searches, enquiries, preferences and orders must be accessible from each channel. The effect of this is personalisation where the customer feels as if they are remembered by the company and they are valued, rather than just a number, they have a name and come with a history. Of course, this also saves a vast amount of time for both the retailer and the customer and ensures each interaction is value-adding for both parties involved.
What is required for omni-channel adoption in your business?
- Know your buyer – this allows the business to create a personalised shopping experience for buyers based on their preferences and past sales
- Change your focus – your focus must change to being firmly on the customer
- Respond quickly – with multiple channels, it can be difficult to monitor them all and respond quickly but this is essential for a good customer experience
- Consistency – all channels should be consistent with each other. This applies to information (such as tracking or product information) as well as price and inventory levels
- Integrate data seamlessly – for a truly omni-channel experience, all data must be seamlessly integrated across every channel. Take the time to select the appropriate systems to ensure they are all able to be integrated
We have considered some methods to build a successful omni-channel portfolio and how this might differ from your current multi-channel strategy. It requires research and expert selection of systems that will assist in building an integrated network of channels that operate seamlessly with each other.
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.