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Omnichannel vs multichannel marketing: What is the difference?

Before making a purchase, a consumer is likely to zig-zag across multiple shopping channels and platforms – from Amazon to eBay, via ecommerce stores and Facebook, using a desktop computer, smartphone or tablet.

It’s no wonder then that in these overlapping worlds, it’s challenging for businesses to ensure they reach shoppers in all of those places. Lots of businesses, whilst gathering customer insights, don’t fully understand how to analyse that behavior and so cannot utilize that data to understand customer actions which can then be used to improve customer engagement.

A non-understanding of this data coupled with buzzwords such as omnichannel and multichannel being thrown around makes for an even more confusing mix – indeed it’s not easy to tell the difference between the two.

Yet knowing the difference between an omnichannel or multichannel approach within your business can help you get valuable data about your customers’ journey, decide which strategy is better for your business, and implement changes to rocket your customer engagement and deliver a better customer experience.

What is Multichannel Marketing?

This simply means ‘many channels’ or different opportunities for a customer to purchase. For example, your customer may be able to buy your product or service on Amazon, on eBay, your website, through Facebook and even in a brick and mortar store.

Multichannel marketing aims are to reach and encourage customers to purchase from their preferred specific ‘channel’ or platform. What this means that it is the consumers choice as to where they buy.

For example, a shopper may prefer to shop on Amazon, but never uses eBay. Another shopper may choose the opposite. By having your product or service listed on both Amazon and eBay, you will reach both customers in the manner which is most comfortable for them. Of course, by being visible on multiple channels, you boost your brand presence too.

What is Omnichannel Marketing?

Omnichannel, on the other hand, means ‘all channels’ and is essentially a streamlining of all your marketing efforts, using your website, social media, email, telephone and so on. Omnichannel focusses on a single customer experience whether the customer is shopping online from a mobile device, from a laptop or a tablet rather than the customers’ individual experiences on many different channels.

Of course, omnichannel cannot happen without multichannel, but the big difference is that omnichannel connects all the channels.

In basic terms, an example of omnichannel marketing might include the following:

Your weekly newsletter includes a link to your forthcoming sale. Your reader clicks through to your site, browses and then adds some products to their cart. However, your customer doesn’t check out, so a couple of hours later, they receive a reminder in the form of a text or email about their cart items. This prompts the customer to check out. So, you have the sale through a seamless marketing series.

Confused? Don’t be. To understand which strategy is right for your business, you need to know the benefits of each and how they can work within your ecommerce business. So, first, let’s look at multichannel.

3 Benefits of Multichannel Marketing

  1. You’ll reach ready-to-buy shoppers. By having your product or service listed on multiple platforms, you can reach shoppers via their preferred and favourite channel where they will be more inclined to make a purchase.
  2. You’ll reduce risk. If you leave the fate of your business to just one platform, what happens if that platform becomes non-viable at some stage? What happens if you lose your account? What about suspensions, penalties and so on? By spreading your business across multiple stand-alone channels, you immediately reduce that risk.
  3. You’ll sell more! More channels mean more exposure to customers and a strengthened brand presence, and that ultimately means more sales. Showing your products to as many shoppers as possible is your aim, so if more people see your product or service, the more people will buy from you.

What’s not to like, right? But multichannel ecommerce comes with some disadvantages too.

3 Disadvantages of Multichannel Marketing

  1. Inventory management. Unless you use a multichannel listing software, you will have a hard time keeping track of your inventory and product revisions.
  2. Running reports and tracking data and analytics effectively to keep on top of which of your channels is performing the best will be time-consuming if you have to keep logging in and out of different platforms to get your data.
  3. Customers don’t immediately know where to find you. While you might think you need to be everywhere if you don’t have a single point of contact or a strategy set up to nurture your customers, you will lose sales, and they may have a hard time reaching you when they need assistance.

So, while diversification is, of course, the key to reaching a larger audience and growing your ecommerce business, it has to be actioned in the best way to suit your company, product or service.

So how does omnichannel ecommerce compare?

3 Benefits of Omnichannel Ecommerce

  1. You’ll provide a smoother customer experience. The number of touchpoints per customer is ever increasing. In other words, customers may see your product or service in multiple places. This could be through various social media accounts, your website and ecommerce platforms, so omnichannel marketing offers a seamless way to integrate each of these touchpoints to help the shopper easily make the decision to purchase.
  2. You’ll bag more customer loyalty. A smooth experience means higher customer satisfaction, more recommendations to friends and family and also more repeat business from previous customers.
  3. You’ll offer a more personalized experience. With data at your fingertips concerning your complete customers’ journey, you’ll be able to create offers and content that encourage your customers to shop even more.

3 Disadvantages of Omnichannel Marketing

  1. It’s not straightforward. After all, you will need to set up a comprehensive new strategy to ensure a seamless customer experience. You’ll need to investigate and understand every customer touchpoint to be able to build your strategy as your customers’ behavior is key.
  2. You’ll have increased competition. It’s easier for customers to comparison shop via their mobile devices; therefore, you’ll need to make sure you incentivize customers to ensure you get the sale. Discounts for loyalty could increase your buyer numbers.
  3. Open communication is required. If your different systems don’t talk to each other, or part of your streamlining fails, omnichannel marketing won’t work. Communication is vital between teams, employees, IT systems and any software you use to ensure a smooth strategy and to keep systems flowing.

Which is Best – Multichannel or Omnichannel Marketing?

The answer to that question lies in clearly identifying the correct approach for your business. While omnichannel offers a smooth customer experience, it relies on you being able to create that seamless strategy in the first place. You must have the technological capabilities to set it up and tie all your channels together without issue, so you’ll need to consider your resources and current infrastructure.

Multichannel marketing is easier to set up without intricate strategies and systems and of course, must be in place initially before omnichannel marketing can commence anyway.

Final Thoughts

Technology has impacted on the way we shop, and there is the chance that without an omnichannel strategy, your business may become less competitive. After all, the objectives of multichannel and omnichannel marketing are to reach customers across multiple channels.

So, for some companies, it will be imperative to be omnipresent. Still, those who are unable to do so, through technological issues or otherwise, should certainly seek to pursue a multichannel strategy instead.

You Have Plans. We Have Ideas. 

This article was written by Chris Dunne from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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