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Multichannel vs. Omnichannel: Which Is Best for You?

This article was published on June 28, 2024

Today’s customers shop through ecommerce sites, online marketplaces, social media, apps, websites, and brick-and-mortar stores. Maintaining a presence across multiple channels is a key to capturing their attention, and there are two main approaches you can take to this: multichannel and omnichannel.

 

While they might sound the same, they’re not.

 

Our practical guide will help you understand the differences between omnichannel and multichannel, as well as help you decide which is right for your business.

Photo of a smiling employee in a store. She is talking on the phone while scrolling on her computer. In the background, a series of small purple vertical lines run across the frame, representing communication.

 

A Quick Overview of the Difference Between Omnichannel and Multichannel

Omnichannel seamlessly integrates all your brand messaging and customer communication across the buying journey, no matter the channel. Meanwhile, multichannel also utilizes multiple channels, but each channel offers an independent experience, rather than an integrated one.

We’ve put together a handy table to break it down.

Aspect

Omnichannel

Multichannel

Channels

Multiple channels with seamless integration across all of them

Multiple channels operating independently

Customer Experience

Consistent across channels

May be different on each channel, with little to no overlap

Messaging

Consistent across channels

Tailored to each channel

Brand Aesthetic

Consistent across channels

Tailored to each channel

Data

Data is collected as the customer moves seamlessly through the integrated system of channels, focusing on the entire journey

Data comes from each independent channel and is focused on how the specific channel performs

As you can see, omnichannel and multichannel provide different structures for your various marketing, commerce, and support channels.

What Is the Omnichannel Approach?

Omnichannel is a customer-led approach. It puts the customer front-and-center in your marketing, shopping, and support strategies.

The modern shopping experience has both simplified and complicated the art of commerce. It’s never been easier to find the thing you want, but it’s never been harder to make a decision. The wealth of access we have to so many different and disparate sources can lead to decision paralysis, ill-advised FOMO, or buyer’s remorse.

An omnichannel approach takes this into account, and helps ensure your customers are drawn back to you. Each channel is in support of another, with consistent messaging and streamlined transitioning across the entire ecosystem.

Here’s how it works:

  • Social media channels contain the same brand messaging, product descriptions, fronts, logos, and aesthetics to create consistency.

  • Apps and ecommerce platforms are integrated and display and retain the same data so that a customer can pick up where they left off.

  • Remarketing techniques are employed (so a customer who just left your ecommerce store might get an advert on their Instagram the day after).

  • In-store and online channels are integrated, utilizing systems like BORIS (buy online, return in-store) and BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store).

  • Customer communication such as SMS and email complement each other, rather than acting separately.

  • Data is gathered holistically as someone moves through the customer journey.

  • Customer support works seamlessly, thanks to an omnichannel contact center, meaning customers don’t need to repeat themselves.

  • Sales, marketing, and support teams collaborate and share tools and data for in-depth integration.

Advantages of an Omnichannel Approach

Now that we know what omnichannel means, let’s talk about the benefits.

Consistent messaging

According to Salesforce’s 2023 State of the Connected Customer report, 79% of customers expect consistency across departments.

We talked about creating a seamless experience that allows customers to depend on your brand. That also guarantees consistency — customers know no matter how they get in touch with you, they’ll have the same great experience. This fosters trust and confidence in your brand.

Consistent messaging isn’t just about support, however. Consistent marketing across different channels can bolster your brand’s sense of reliability. It’s clear exactly who you are, and what you’re offering — no matter where your audience finds you.

Increased retention and loyalty

The 2024 “The Omnichannel Difference” report by Forrester and Emarsys found that 35% of omnichannel businesses reported better customer retention, and 35% increased their customer loyalty. Overall, 46% of businesses reported higher customer lifetime value through an omnichannel approach.

Unified data analysis 

Omnichannel data provides a holistic view of each customer’s journey through your ecosystem as customers move from one touchpoint to the next. This data tells you when an event triggers an action, such as a social media post triggering a visit to your online store triggering a sale.

It’s all about being able to see cause and effect. Being able to track a customer through touchpoints, see how each touchpoint leads to another, and spot patterns and trends, offers powerful predictive data about customer sentiments and behaviors.

Improving the customer experience

The purpose of omnichannel is to create a better customer experience through integrating touchpoints, removing roadblocks, and streamlining the buyer journey.

Let’s use customer support as an example.

Customer support touchpoints include live chat services, support tickets, self-help desks, email, and phone calls. Integrating these touchpoints involves using tools like customer relationship management software and ensuring customer data is accessible to all your support teams.

The goal is to make customer support simple. A customer should only have to communicate their account details and the issue they’re having at the very first touchpoint. If the customer moves from live chat to a phone conversation, support teams will have that information on hand, meaning customers don’t get frustrated at having to repeat themselves.

Challenges of an Omnichannel Approach

All strategies come with challenges, and omnichannel is no different.

Cost and resources

Creating a fully integrated experience requires some investment. 

You’ll need to consider your current tech stack and hardware and assess which new tools you may need to purchase. You’ll also need to train employees in the usage of these new tools.

Managing omnichannel data

We talked about the benefits of unified data analysis above, but gathering this kind of data can be difficult.

A 2024 Forrester report commissioned by Acoustic (“Strengthen Customer Retention And Engagement With Behavioral Data”) highlighted the challenges of omnichannel data collection.

The report found that businesses understood the importance of behavioral data across multiple channels, but struggled to measure and act on these findings in meaningful ways.

For example, 84% of respondents said that collecting channel engagement data was important or critical, but only 68% of businesses were currently doing it.

To tackle this, the report recommends categorizing data by its value and focusing on high-value and real-time data. It also recommends utilizing comprehensive tools that can collect, clean, and analyze data to streamline the process.

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Example: An Omnichannel Strategy

Wondering what an omnichannel strategy might look like to a customer? Here’s just one example.

Imagine you’re a web developer researching tools to streamline your work. You do a web search and check out the top result, but you decide to sleep on it.

Meanwhile, this omnichannel SaaS provider uses cross-channel remarketing tactics like tracking cookies to log your visit and present marketing across a variety of channels and devices.

The next day, you scroll your social media feed on your phone and your favorite tech-related blogs on your PC. You see the same ad across multiple platforms — it’s the provider you checked out. 

You click the ad. They're offering a free trial if you sign up, so why not give it a go?

One week later, you’re impressed. However, there’s a few features you couldn’t wrap your head around so you decide to think on it further.

A few days after your free trial ends, you receive an email. It’s from the SaaS provider, and they noticed you didn’t follow up on your free trial. They're even offering a discount to entice you into subscribing.

You’re impressed again. You like the service, and the discount is a great touch, but a couple of issues are getting in the way.

You click through to their website and open a live chat. You give them your details and want to discuss some features of the tool you had problems with.

The live chat agent says someone will call you, and they do. They already know who you are and the exact issues you’re having, since the business shares data amongst its support teams. 

Within minutes, everything is resolved. You’ve signed up, and you’re feeling great about the experience.

This seamless omnichannel journey has given you, a potential customer, every confidence in this brand at every step of the way.

What Is the Multichannel Approach?

Multichannel means marketing and selling across multiple channels. Unlike omnichannel, multichannel doesn’t integrate these channels. Each channel has its own thing going on, tailored specifically to it.

Here’s how it works:

  • Brands create a presence on multiple channels.

  • Each channel operates as its own entity.

  • Multichannel marketing is product-led and channel-led, with each piece of content adapted to suit a specific channel or marketing need.

  • Each channel’s data is analyzed individually and works towards improving efforts on that channel.

  • There’s no deliberate push for integration or brand consistency. 

  • Marketing, sales, and customer support teams have more freedom to operate independently.

Advantages of a Multichannel Approach

Now we’ve defined a multichannel approach, let’s get into the benefits.

Each channel operates independently

Keeping each channel separate allows teams more control over their individual strategies. Extensive cooperation and coordination aren’t required, meaning there are fewer barriers to quick decision-making.

Each channel can adapt

Let’s face it — channels are different. Certain demographics prefer certain social media platforms, types of content, payment systems, and purchasing channels.

A multichannel approach allows each channel to adapt its messaging to the demographics and uses of that channel.

For example, a brand might use TikTok by partnering with an influencer and creating short-form video content that utilizes the slang and cadence that makes up the popular TikTok dialect. But on Facebook, the same brand might use picture ads and more mature language that appeals to everyone.

Data specificity

Having data specific to each channel allows teams to create highly specific content and strategies that capitalize on that channel’s strong points and usebase. 

Lower barrier to entry

We talked about cost and resources being a challenge for an omnichannel strategy. Multichannel can be a cost-effective solution that can help you spread brand awareness without committing to the resources of a highly integrated omnichannel approach.

Challenges of a Multichannel Approach

Generally, the challenges of a multichannel approach are the areas where it falls short in comparison to an omnichannel approach.

Customer support roadblocks

Since each channel in a multichannel approach is separate, each customer support channel is its own domain.

A customer might start a live chat with an agent, communicating their account details and the problem they’re having. The agent might move them onto email customer support — a separate channel which does not share data with live chat.

Here, a new agent has to ask the customer for their account details and the issue they’re having. And on it goes until the customer is frustrated with the lack of cohesion.

Inconsistent messaging

Multichannel marketing lacks the consistency and cohesion of an omnichannel approach, which can negatively affect the customer experience.

Consistency creates a sense of familiarity and trust. Think of McDonald’s golden arches. If you came across a big purple M, it would throw that trust into question — you might even question if it’s the same brand at all!

Data is not comprehensive

Multichannel data analysis only pertains to its own channel. This means you miss out on a holistic overview of customer behavior across the whole brand experience.

Example: A Multichannel Strategy

Let’s take another look through the eyes of a potential customer.

You, our intrepid web developer, are still in the market for new tools.

You’re browsing your favorite tech-related blog when you see a guest post from a new SaaS provider. You read it and get on with your day.

A few days later, you’re scrolling TikTok instead of working and there’s that SaaS provider again. This time, it’s a fun and educational little video showing off the new office space and team.

The next day, you’re scrolling your Twitter/X feed, and an ad pops up. It’s a slick-looking invitation to a free webinar hosted by that SaaS provider.

They’re everywhere! Now you’re curious. You click the ad and sign up for a free trial.

Unlike omnichannel, this multichannel approach is about visibility. The brand isn’t tracking your behavior and delivering marketing personalized to you; they’re simply expanding their reach by tailoring their marketing strategies to a variety of platforms.

You trial the service, but there are a couple of features you’re not sure about. You decide to think about it.

A few days later, the SaaS provider emails you to ask if there were problems with your trial.

You email back to discuss the issues you had. The person cannot help and suggests you open a live chat instead.

You do that, and the live chat agent wants to know who you are and what your problem is. So you enter those details. But the agent cannot help you and suggests you call a number.

You call the number. The agent asks you who you are and what your problem is.

Eventually, you get to the bottom of your problem. The provider offered multichannel support, which was great, but the lack of consistency has soured the experience.

Choosing Between Omnichannel and Multichannel Marketing Strategies

Every business is unique, and your sales and marketing needs will reflect that.

Before you make a choice between omnichannel vs multichannel, you should try a little Q and A with yourself.

  • What kind of business are you?

Are you a dedicated brick-and-mortar store or an online-only store? Or are you a mix of both? And how big is your audience?

  • What are your resources?

There are startup costs for both multichannel and omnichannel, but omnichannel can have a higher barrier to entry. You’ll need to work out your budget and tech resources before committing to a strategy.

  • Can you manage the necessary channels?

Can you manage multiple social media accounts, apps, ecommerce stores, and customer support channels? Now ask yourself: Can I integrate all those channels and create a coordinated strategy among all channels and teams?

  • So how do I decide?

An omnichannel approach might offer the best ROI and seem like the obvious choice, but it’s important to be aware of your situation before committing.

A multichannel approach can work for any business on any budget, but an omnichannel approach requires an in-depth look at your budget, tech, teams, and operations.

There is no “right” choice; there’s only the choice that makes sense for your business.  No matter which you choose, Vonage Business Communications can help make internal and external communication simple, integrating with various apps as needed.

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