Clearing Up the Confusion Between Omnichannel and Multichannel

Dec 04, 2013 11:25 AM  By

forecast-dataOmnichannel and multichannel, we hear these two terms used frequently – and often interchangeably – in the ecommerce world but in reality, they’re distinct things. Both strategies are important to brands, but in order to properly execute on them, you have to know what they mean.

Let’s take a look at definitions:

Omnichannel refers to the corporate goal of delivering a branded, consistent, interdependent experience that transcends individual channel activity. From the customers’ perspective, it is the same goal – to be able to experience a company’s offerings uniformly but tailored to the individual touch points.

Multichannel experience refers to the reality of what’s going on within each individual channel. While there may be omnichannel attributes across channels, multichannel incorporates the more functional aspects of interacting with a specific channel, including techniques and technologies that only exist inside of discrete channel experiences (e.g., pinch/zoom/swipe in mobile). Further, multichannel explores the interrelated experiences from a customer’s perspective, illuminating how one channel influences others and showing the path of the customer’s journey.

Despite different definitions, the goals are the same: to create a superior experience for customers (who don’t and shouldn’t care about terminology distinctions). They view their experiences with a company as that – experiences with a company, not with discrete channels. In addition, customers and companies, more and more, are aligned in their desire to live in a fully mature omnichannel world – one where consumers can transition from channel to channel, seamlessly picking up where they’ve left off in the purchasing process, and having a consistent and unfettered experience.

In many cases, this isn’t a reality yet, but rather something to aspire to. Netflix is a good example of a company that’s done well – making it easy, for example, for users to watch a program on their phone or tablet, and pick it right up, streamed to their TV. Forward-looking companies are following Netflix’s lead by using authentication technologies to provide this type of experience for customers – and, in the process, get more complete knowledge about brand interactions and experiences.

Here’s where measurement plays a critical role: It bridges the gap between what customers want and what companies need to build and deliver for a truly superior customer experience. Both omnichannel and multichannel experiences can be measured, and it’s important to track and measure both. Measuring the omnichannel experience shows how you’re doing overall, while measuring the multichannel experience is more prescriptive – showing where and how you can improve.

Tips for Measuring and Creating a Superior Omnichannel Experience
Practice makes perfect, and creating and measuring an omnichannel experience is a continual process. Though it’s not an all-inclusive list, here are three tips:

  • Have a representative audience sampling, to make sure you’re asking questions of and engaging the right people.
  • Make sure you’re looking at everyone engaging with your brand. Don’t just survey those who’ve made purchases, for example – also look at those who are browsing.
  • Align the reality of the customer experience with the reality of business goals. Use omnichannel measurements to show whether there’s a chasm between what qualities marketers want their brands to embody and what qualities consumers actually perceive.

Tips for Measuring and Creating a Superior Multichannel Experience
On the multichannel side, creating and perfecting the experience is a similar process – one that gets continually fine-tuned through customer feedback and evolving preferences. Here are three tips:

  • Use consistent measurements/KPIs across various touch points to evaluate the efficacy of improvements and activity. By internally benchmarking your channels against one another, clear improvement points materialize. Use measurements like sales numbers, unique visits, customer satisfaction, percent of customers with intent to buy, etc.
  • Keep in mind channel inter-dependencies when evaluating the effectiveness of touch points. That is, while one channel may not be directly resulting in sales, it could be driving customers to make purchases in other channels. Ask connector questions to see the path of the customer journey.
  • Use actionable insights to make tactical improvements. Measurement is the first step, analysis second, then action. Look for precise, predictive and credible solutions that can provide insight into the ROI of changes. Experiment and take action.

While both omnichannel and multichannel strategies have value – and should be pursued simultaneously – it’s key not to let the pursuit of an omnichannel experience dilute the functional uniqueness within individual channels. Thus, it’s vital to examine and analyze opportunities to better service customers, and see where you’ll get biggest return. When it comes to omnichannel vs. multichannel, it’s not an either/or proposition for brands – instead, it’s important to have strategies around both, and consistently measure their effectiveness.

Eric Feinberg is senior director of media, mobile and entertainment, and JJ Cramer is director of mobile at ForeSee, a leader in customer experience analytics.