Omnichannel vs. Multichannel—the Distinction is Clear

Search for “Omni-Channel vs. multichannel” and there are a lot of explanations as to what the difference is between them. Some are spot on; others are dense and circuitous and brimming with jargon—and not close to hitting the mark.

Here’s what I think is the easiest way to distinguish between multi-channel and omni-channel.

Multichannel describes your technology. Omnichannel describes the customer experience your technology provides.

I’ll show you what I mean by recreating an everyday occurrence for retailers worldwide—I’ll play the role of Average Customer.

My buying process begins while I’m watching the early morning news—a commercial tells me that the local department store (let’s call it Gimbels) has a sale. I remember I received a 20% coupon from them in the mail so I’m interested. I reach for my tablet and sign in at their responsive site. I find the sale item I want and put it in my cart, but I have a question—whether they’ll honor my coupon for sale items—that isn’t answered on their site.

But, it’s off to work for me. While in traffic, I call (hands free!) to ask that question. The phone representative recognizes me from my phone ID, and after authentication looks in my cart and knows what item I’m talking about. He also knows what promotion I received, and tells me that it’s valid.

My question is answered, but I don’t want to go through the ordering process in the car—too much time on the phone in rush hour traffic. So I wait until I get to work and order it on my desktop online. It’s not in stock at my local store, but Gimbels lets me buy online and have next-day pickup, which I select.

Now, there are a lot of “channels” in play here, aren’t there? There’s the telephone channel. And the online channel. And the cable TV channel. And the print channel. And the mobile channel. And the social channel. And the brick and mortar channel. It’s definitely multichannel.

But that’s not the value here. Gimbels has taken all those channels, each powered by different technologies, and used them to provide me an experience where each of those channels works together to create one, consistent, intelligent channel—and one seamless experience for me.

If it sounds too retail to you, don’t let it: I’ve used the retail example here since it’s easily recognizable by most everyone. But omnichannel commerce is becoming the expectation for customers across all categories of business—public, private, B2B, B2C, products, services . . . .and more.

And please, finally, don’t imagine that omnichannel commerce is too big of a pie in the sky for you to digest. There’s no wholesale replacement of your technology. With USAN, implementing omnichannel commerce is a transition not a disruption. Our hosted solutions don’t rip and replace your existing channels, they extend and enhance them. You move to omnichannel commerce a bite at a time, integrating each of your channels, one by one, creating a single, omnichannel commerce experience for your customers.