Over the last few decades, ecommerce has exploded. In fact, eMarketer estimates that retail sales online will climb to over $900 billion in 2023 for the US alone. As more companies try to get their share of that revenue, businesses have needed to find ways to best connect with their audience.
Retail companies, in particular, have had to adapt and change the way they do business in recent years. And, as more options become available, customers have become more discerning about where they spend their money. This is causing another shift in ecommerce from an individual experience to an integrated one. Lately, there have been two similar terms floating around the ecommerce industry: omni-channel and multi-channel sales. While they are sometimes referred to as interchangeable and some definitions vary, the terms actually have distinct differences.
Some refer to omni-channel sales simply as companies offering both online and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences. However, this is a very simplified way of looking at the sales process. Omni-channel sales actually describes an integrated and seamless shopping experience across several different channels.
Here’s an example: Albertsons has a smartphone app that offers coupons and loyalty rewards to their customers. The program is called Just For U. When customers open the app in a store, they are offered digital coupons and additional discounts that are curated for them based on local availability and their prior purchases. It takes into account any purchases that have been made in other Albertsons stores and on their website in addition to prior purchases made at that location. This is a great example of omni-channel sales. Customers are rewarded for utilizing different channels while shopping.
In contrast, multi-channel sales consider each individual sales channel as a silo. The experience is unique for each channel, meaning loyalty rewards, tracking, marketing, and other efforts rarely transfer from one to another. This approach is much more affordable and easier for online only stores that simply need various touch points to reach more customers without the cost of having a brick-and-mortar store or expensive integrated systems.
Here’s an example: Tuft and Needle sells their mattresses directly on their own website. Their products are also available in brick-and-mortar stores like Lowes and Crate and Barrel. Additionally, they sell through Amazon and even created an Amazon-exclusive product. Because most customers only purchase mattresses every few years, integrated systems are not as important as they are for online stores that rely on regularly returning customers.
This a great example of multi-channel sales. Instead of spending money on expensive software, they focus on offering a variety of channels to reach more customers.
Deciding on a Path for Your Business
Every company is different and will need to consider what strategy makes the most sense for them. Trendy clothing retailers may want to focus on expanding their channels through social media and other easily shared content. Retailers selling common use everyday items might want to open or partner with brick-and-mortar stores to provide integrated experiences like BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) or BORIS (buy online, return in store).
Whichever path you choose, developing more channels and helping customers find you is going to be important moving forward. In a survey done by BigCommerce, convenience and price were the top two reasons why people of all generations shopped at branded online stores and Amazon. With more companies popping up every day, anything you can do to set yourself apart and make your products more competitive can help you stand out in a crowded market.