The Definitive Guide to Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Commerce

The Definitive Guide to Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Commerce

Woman shopping using multiple channels

As a business, you already know that making your products or services available for purchase across more than one channel is a really good idea. Not only does it allow you to diversify your distribution, it also enables you to meet your clients where they are and facilitate the sale.

However, confusion often arises when deciding between a multichannel and an omnichannel commerce strategy. In this article, we’ll clear things up, discuss the merits of both approaches, and help you determine which strategy works best for your business.

Defining Omnichannel and Multichannel Commerce

First, multichannel and omnichannel have many similarities because omnichannel is, inherently, multichannel. Both encourage making your products or services available across as many channels as possible. However, omnichannel goes a few steps further to improve and personalize the customer experience. Omnichannel is more customer-centric, while multichannel focuses more on the product and its availability.

What is Multichannel Commerce

Multichannel commerce refers to the practice of selling products or services through multiple channels, such as brick-and-mortar stores, websites, mobile apps, and social media platforms. In a multichannel approach, each channel operates independently, with its own inventory, pricing, and marketing strategies.

A classic example of a multichannel strategy is a retailer that sells products both through a physical storefront and an ecommerce website, with separate promotional strategies for each. Another example could be a business that uses its website, a mobile app, and social media platforms to reach different customer segments, without necessarily integrating the customer experience across these channels.

What is Omnichannel Commerce

Omnichannel commerce, on the other hand, is focused on providing a seamless, integrated shopping experience across all channels. In an omnichannel approach, a business is still selling its products or services across multiple channels. Except in this scenario, all the channels are interconnected, and customers can move effortlessly between them, with consistent pricing, promotions, and product availability.

A prime example of omnichannel commerce is a retailer that allows customers to browse products online, check inventory in local stores, place an order on their mobile app, and choose to pick it up in-store or have it delivered. Another instance is using customer data collected from online interactions to provide personalized recommendations and offers in physical stores.

What’s The Difference Between Multichannel and Omnichannel Commerce?

Customer Experience: One of the key differences between omnichannel and multichannel commerce is the impact on the customer experience. Omnichannel commerce offers a more seamless and integrated experience, allowing customers to move between channels without friction. In contrast, multichannel commerce can lead to a disjointed experience, with different channels operating independently.

Integration and Consistency: Omnichannel commerce requires a high degree of integration and consistency across channels. This means that inventory, pricing, and promotions must be synchronized to provide a seamless experience, regardless of the channel. In contrast, multichannel commerce allows for more flexibility, as each channel can operate independently.

Flexibility and Adaptability: When it comes to adapting to changing consumer behaviors and market trends, omnichannel commerce offers greater flexibility. Because of its integrated nature, businesses can more easily pivot to new technologies or channels. Multichannel commerce, on the other hand, may require more effort to adapt to new trends, as each channel operates independently.

Which Is Better: Multichannel or Omnichannel Commerce?

Omnichannel commerce, which offers a seamless and integrated shopping experience across all channels and touchpoints, has become increasingly popular among businesses aiming to meet the elevated expectations of today’s consumers. However, both channel strategies have merit, and both come with their own set of advantages and challenges.

Pros of Omnichannel Commerce

Enhanced Customer Experience

  • Seamless Integration: Customers enjoy a consistent and seamless experience whether they’re shopping online, via mobile, or in a physical store. This integration significantly improves customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Personalization: Omnichannel allows for personalized interactions based on customer data collected across all touchpoints, enhancing the shopping experience and potentially increasing sales.

Increased Sales and Customer Loyalty

  • Higher Engagement: A unified approach encourages more engagement across channels, increasing the chances of conversion.
  • Customer Retention: Enhanced customer experiences lead to higher levels of customer retention and loyalty, as shoppers are more likely to return to a brand that offers convenience and personalization.

Better Data Collection and Analytics

  • Unified Customer View: Collecting data across all channels provides a comprehensive view of customer behavior and preferences, enabling more effective marketing and sales strategies.
  • Improved Inventory Management: Real-time data allows for more accurate inventory management across channels, reducing stockouts and overstocks.

Competitive Advantage

  • Offering an omnichannel experience can differentiate a brand from competitors who may not provide the same level of integration and customer service, potentially capturing a larger market share.

Cons of Omnichannel Commerce

High Implementation Costs

  • Technology Investments: Setting up an omnichannel infrastructure requires significant investment in technology to integrate systems, manage data, and ensure seamless customer experiences.
  • Training and Development: Employees across all departments need training to operate within an omnichannel framework, adding to the initial costs.

Complexity in Integration

System Compatibility: Integrating different systems (CRM, ERP, POS, etc.) can be complex and time-consuming, especially for businesses with legacy systems.

Data Management Challenges: Managing and analyzing the vast amounts of data collected from various channels can be daunting and requires advanced analytics capabilities.

Increased Operational Demands

  • Inventory Challenges: Maintaining accurate inventory levels across all channels in real-time is challenging and requires sophisticated inventory management systems.
  • Customer Service Demands: Providing consistent and high-quality customer service across all channels increases the complexity and workload for customer service teams.

Pros of Multichannel Commerce

Expanded Market Reach

  • Diverse Channels: By utilizing multiple channels (online, in-store, social media, etc.), businesses can reach a wider audience, including different demographics and customer preferences.
  • Increased Visibility: Presence on multiple platforms increases brand visibility and the likelihood of attracting new customers.

Flexibility in Customer Engagement

  • Customer Preferences: Businesses can cater to various customer preferences, allowing customers to choose their preferred shopping channel.
  • Adaptability: Companies can quickly adapt and respond to changes or trends within specific channels without overhauling their entire strategy.

Risk Diversification

  • Channel Independence: If one channel underperforms or experiences issues, it doesn’t directly impact the performance of other channels, reducing overall business risk.
  • Cost Management: Businesses can allocate resources and adjust strategies for each channel based on its performance and ROI, optimizing overall spending.

Targeted Marketing Strategies

  • Channel-Specific Campaigns: Companies can tailor marketing strategies to the specific characteristics and customer base of each channel, potentially increasing the effectiveness of their marketing efforts.

Cons of Multichannel Commerce

Fragmented Customer Experience

  • Lack of Integration: Without a unified approach, customers may experience inconsistency in pricing, service, and brand messaging across channels, potentially leading to confusion or dissatisfaction.
  • Disjointed Data: Collecting and analyzing customer data across independent channels can be challenging, making it harder to gain a complete view of customer behavior and preferences.

Increased Complexity in Management

  • Operational Challenges: Managing inventory, pricing, promotions, and customer service across multiple channels independently can increase operational complexity and workload.
  • Channel Silos: Departments or teams may operate in silos, focusing only on their specific channel, which can hinder overall strategy coherence and efficiency.

Potential for Brand Dilution

  • Inconsistent Messaging: Without a unified strategy, there’s a risk that brand messaging may become diluted or inconsistent, weakening the overall brand identity.
  • Customer Confusion: Customers encountering different prices or promotions across channels may become confused or frustrated, potentially harming brand loyalty.

Resource Intensiveness

  • Costs of Multiple Channels: Operating and optimizing multiple channels can require significant investments in technology, marketing, and human resources, without the guarantee of proportional returns.
  • Difficulty in Optimization: Balancing resources and attention across channels can be challenging, making it difficult to optimize the performance of each channel.

Which Commerce Strategy is Right for Your Business?

Deciding between multichannel and omnichannel commerce depends on several factors:

Your Business Priorities

Is your business more product-centric or customer-centric? If your priority is to make your product available through as many channels as possible, and you are willing to make concessions about the cohesiveness of your customer experience, then a multichannel approach is the correct one for you.

If your objective is to provide your customers with a seamless experience, accompanying them through every step of the purchase process, then you should explore an omnichannel strategy.

The Nature of Your Business

Consider whether your offerings benefit from a unified experience or if they can be more effectively marketed independently.

A fashion retailer may choose to go omnichannel to allow a customer to see a dress on social media, check the inventory at the nearest store, go try it on, but ultimately order it online in a different color and have it shipped to home.

Whereas an automotive parts manufacturer may opt for a multichannel strategy that includes distribution through dealerships, independent auto shops, online retailers, and direct-to-consumer ecommerce sites. This approach allows them to effectively reach a wide range of customers with varying buying preferences.

The Channels You Leverage

If independent dealers and big box stores are part of your distribution strategy, alongside Amazon and your own ecommerce website, you may need the flexibility to vary pricing and promotions to accommodate your distributors. This is best achieved in a multi-channel approach.

Target Audience Preferences and Demographics

Understanding your customers’ shopping behaviors and channel preferences is key. If you are going after a digitally-savvy target, they expect and appreciate an omnichannel approach that anticipates their needs and simplifies their purchase journey. If your client base is older, a multichannel strategy will meet most of their needs.

Tech Stack Compatibility

Assess if your current technology can support the integration required for omnichannel:

  • Integrated Customer Data Platform: A centralized platform that collects, stores, and analyzes customer data across all touchpoints is crucial. This enables a unified view of the customer journey, facilitating personalized interactions and seamless customer experiences across channels.
  • Advanced CRM and ERP Systems: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems need to be integrated so that information about customer interactions, inventory, orders, and logistics is synchronized across all channels in real-time.
  • Unified Composable Commerce Platform: A composable commerce platform, like Kibo, integrates ecommerce, mobile commerce, order management, and in-store operations into a single platform. This ensures consistent product information, pricing, and promotions across all channels.
  • Cross-Channel Inventory Management: Real-time inventory management systems that update product availability across all sales channels help prevent stock discrepancies and ensure that customers can purchase items regardless of how they choose to shop.
  • Personalization Engines: Technologies that leverage data analytics and machine learning to deliver personalized recommendations and content based on a customer’s previous interactions, preferences, and purchase history across all channels.
  • Seamless Payment Solutions: Payment systems that support a range of payment methods (online, mobile, in-store) and enable easy transitions between channels, such as buying online and returning in-store, or using in-store tablets for online orders.
  • Mobile Technology Integration: Mobile apps and responsive web design that integrate with physical store experiences, such as QR codes for product information, mobile payments, and location-based services.


Ultimately, the choice between omnichannel and multichannel commerce should align with your business objectives, capabilities, and the needs of your target audience. While omnichannel offers a more integrated and personalized experience, it requires more resources and a sophisticated tech stack. Multichannel, on the other hand, offers flexibility and the ability to target diverse customer segments but may fall short in providing a cohesive brand experience. As consumer expectations continue to evolve, the key to success lies in understanding these preferences and leveraging the right strategy to meet them.

Choosing the right commerce strategy is essential for businesses looking to thrive. Whether you opt for an omnichannel or multichannel approach, the key is to align your business goals with your customers’ needs and preferences and provide them with the best shopping experience across all channels.

Still need help deciding between multichannel or omnichannel? DigiCommerce and Kibo can help! Contact us today for a free consultation.

Maya Meyouhas - DigiCommerce
Maya Meyouhas
Chief Marketing Officer, DigiCommerce

Maya Meyouhas is DigiCommerce’s Chief Marketing Officer. She is a marketing executive with over 18 years experience developing and executing innovative marketing strategies that drive business growth, enhance brand awareness, and increase customer engagement. She has collaborated with some of the biggest media and retail brands in Canada and is passionate about branding, data and technology.