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What is the difference between multichannel and omnichannel retail?

Woman with a full shopping basket in a grocery store looks at her phone.

Multichannel retail presents many different channels for customers to interact and transact with your retail business - including the physical store, social media, the web, mobile app, phone, text, chat, and more.

A multichannel retail strategy is table stakes in today’s expectation economy, especially as many retailers look to switch up their business models and modernize their digital strategies.

While this strategy accounts for many different customer engagement channels, it often fails to ensure connectivity between each of the channels. As a result, customers often encounter frustration in the journey, especially when switching from one channel to another—damaging hard-earned brand reputation and potentially jeopardizing future sales.

So how can your retail business avoid these kinds of missteps in the retail experience? The answer is to take an omnichannel retail approach, instead of a multichannel approach.

What is the difference between multichannel retail and omnichannel retail?

Unlike multichannel retailing, omnichannel retailing strategically approaches all interaction and transaction channels as part of a larger unified journey, ensuring each works together seamlessly and without any friction. An omnichannel retail strategy ensures consumers can move seamlessly between browsing, shopping, purchasing, and customer service - no matter what channel they are using or how often they flip between channels.

The best omnichannel retailers take this one step further, looking at each channel as an opportunity to drive more meaning, humanity, loyalty, and sales at every touchpoint, throughout the end-to-end customer experience.

What is omnichannel retail?

Omnichannel retail definition: A unified, frictionless retail experience that enables easy navigation and movement between every interaction channel - including the physical store, social media, the web, phone, text chat, and more. This integrated CX strategy gives customers the ability to travel seamlessly from channel to channel, empowering them to have their needs addressed more quickly, easily and on their channel of choice.

Think of the experience you have with companies like Target, Walmart, Apple, or Starbucks – these retailers are delivering some of the best omnichannel strategies, by curating hyper-connected and personalized experiences that are interwoven across their in-store, in-app, over-the-phone, and on-the-web experiences.

Compare that to an experience where you were being offered different channels, but there was little thought behind where these fit into the overall experience strategy: There is an app, but the app has no history of the purchases you made in the store. There is a live chat option, but when you are passed from the chat to a live person, they have no recollection of the previous interaction. This is the difference between merely offering channels and offering a channel strategy.

In other words, omnichannel is the gateway from meeting the status quo to delivering an exceptional experience.

Take a look at the following infographic for a closer look at how a multichannel retail experience and an omnichannel retail experience compare could play out in this customer journey example:

How do you deliver an omnichannel (vs. multichannel) retail experience?

Omnichannel retail experiences are now table stakes, with 90% of consumers now stating they expect consistent, seamless interactions with brands, not only within but across channels. Meeting these omnichannel retail experience expectations requires a strategic approach that includes the following mission-critical elements:

  • A strong strategy: This is crucial to delivering a unified omnichannel retail experience. This always begins by defining your North Star: your business’ overall philosophy and strategic approach to CX. Your North Star is the guiding force for your overall CX strategy and depicts how you want your customers to view your brand, your primary differentiators, and your ideal customer experience. Your North Star helps build a sense of purpose for your team to rally around, boosting employee engagement and a stronger employee experience as well.
  • Defining your customer and employee needs: This helps uncover the gaps between the experiences you’re providing now, and the experience your customers and employees desire. Programs like Voice of the Customer (and Voice of the Employee) can help you actively listen to what people are saying about their interactions with your brand. A clear understanding of what your customers and employees are saying will help clarify where your experience delivery is strongest and where improvement is needed.

A clear vision of your desired state combined with a deepened understanding of needs and preferences is the foundation on which a strong, sustainable omnichannel retail experience can be built. From there, you can determine what capabilities and investments are needed to facilitate your vision. Specifically:

  • Selecting systems and solutions that allow your customers to move between channels at will (and with ease) based on their own preferences and needs.
  • Connecting your systems to deliver a seamless experience as people move among channels and devices.
  • Providing employees with a connected, accurate POV of your customers' information, needs, and history, so they are empowered to support and strengthen the experience.
  • Adopting a sophisticated approach to data and analytics. This means informing every touchpoint with the most up-to-date, accurate data possible so you can deliver the physical, digital, and human elements your customers are seeking today…and in the future.

TTEC Digital helps deliver strong omnichannel retail strategies

TTEC Digital can help you establish a strong omnichannel retail strategy through consultation and strategic design work. We are experienced in building connected, frictionless customer experience strategies that give retail brands the ability to:

  • Build customer loyalty and increase referrals
  • Decrease customer attrition
  • Deliver better agent experiences

All of these metrics drive toward the performance your retail brand needs, from boosting sales, to fostering a stronger culture, to staying permanently ahead of the competition. That’s the power of an omnichannel retail strategy built and supported by TTEC Digital.