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On the Superiority of Omnichannel Over Multichannel

25 July 2018 | Weronika Masternak | martech omnichannel

Unfavourable circumstances can be seen in the consumer space when the company offers different products/services, presents different benefits, and highlights other values within its channels. How can the omnichannel strategy affect the consistency of information?

You will learn from the article:

  • what is multichannel;
  • what is omnichannel;
  • what forms the functional basis of the omnichannel strategy;
  • what benefits does multichannel provide.

The dream of many (if not most) companies is to reach as many customers as possible. Therefore, they bombard their customers with messages through many available channels. Their quality and volume significantly affect the perception of the brand and the emergence of the customer experience (the sum of user's experiences, impressions and emotions). However, unfavourable circumstances can be seen in the consumer space when the company offers different products/services, presents different benefits, and highlights other values within its channels. It also happens that the access to information about the company, its sales offer, service systems or sales policy becomes difficult, and in extreme cases, these messages are mutually exclusive. This is unacceptable in the age of multiscreening, high consumer expectations, and trends related to comfort and free movement within online-offline environments (the O2O strategy).

What is multichannel?

To be able to explain what is omnichannel, we should start with the concept of multichannel. Multichannel is primarily based on creating and providing physical and digital channels by the organisation – it can be, e.g. a platform, system, application, brick-and-mortar store, web/mobile site, social media, helpline, printed catalogues – through which a potential customer can get acquainted with the brand's offer, ask a question, make a transaction or perform an activity approved by the company. In a business based on multichannel, the greatest emphasis is put on the number of channels (i.e. the number of possibilities), responsible for which most often are different departments. This is associated with the creation of separate, independent strategies, focused on various marketing or sales goals. The described occurrence of non-uniform action plans seems to be obvious due to the specific nature of the channels and the possibilities provided by them. However, there are everyday situations in the life of the consumer, where you can see the disadvantages of conducting business activity in such a manner.

Let us imagine the moment when the recipient compares the offers of furniture in the printed catalogue and on the website. When they notice discrepancies between the presented products (e.g. different prices, dimensions or availability of colours), they become frustrated – the potential customer does not know what information is up to date, and choosing a product becomes more difficult. Another situation that proves the imperfection of multichannel is when the user finds their dream-shirt on the website, obtains information about its availability in a brick-and-mortar store, but when they get there, they learn from the staff that the product is no longer in stock. Again, this is not a pleasant surprise for the customer; they feel they've wasted their time. The last example can be the moment when the customer orders online, but after opening the package, they consider the product does not meet their expectations, and want to return it. To their surprise, they cannot do this in a brick-and-mortar store, because the online store and brick-and-mortar store are autonomous and have separate storage and commercial systems.

All of the above-mentioned situations of misleading the customer are caused by inconsistency, inauthenticity or outdated information. There is a lack of integration between the online-offline channels, which has a negative impact on building customer loyalty and their satisfaction. The aforementioned situations do not occur when implementing the omnichannel strategy, based mainly on ”connecting two worlds” – online and offline – and treating them as one.

Principles for introducing omnichannel

The most important principle in the omnichannel strategy is to ensure a consistent, always up-to-date and personalised customer service in each of the channels used. It is worth noting that it is not the channels (their number or specifics), but the customer that counts here, and guaranteeing them identical impressions, regardless of the brand touchpoint . The purpose of creating more touchpoints is, first of all, using their potential to build the customer journey and providing the ability to move smoothly between the worlds. Let us refer again to the consumer situations described earlier in the implementation of the omnichannel strategy:

First example:

When comparing the furniture offer in the printed catalogue and on the website, the customer will not notice the difference in the product offer; the same features of furniture and the actual state (up-to-dateness) will be presented and highlighted, thanks to which making a choice is easier. In the omnichannel strategy, the information and form of its presentation is adapted to the means of brand's communication with the customer. This means that the same product will be differently (but equally effectively) offered on a website, in a mobile application, in a brick-and-mortar store or in a printed brochure.

Second example:

Another situation is when the consumer sees his dream-shirt in an online store, and then obtains information about its availability in a brick-and-mortar store. By making a reservation, they can be sure that it will actually be available in the selected colour and size. The customer's purchase will trigger – in accordance with the omnichannel strategy – an inventory update. That is because omnichannel is based on using a Product Information Management (PIM) system, thanks to which the data update in sales channels is automatic. As a result, the offered products and services remain valid – it is not possible for the customer to see an offer whose validity has expired. Due to this, the organisation may notice an increase in transactions and customers' level of trust.

Third example:

And finally the last situation, when the customer takes the purchase risk and orders the product online, which in the end does not satisfy them – they can return it at the nearest brick-and-mortar store or in another convenient way. Such a policy of returns, exchanges and complaints makes the brand express its respect towards consumers.

As you can see, in every situation described above, the convenience, precision and attractiveness of information is ensured for users of the brand; they can make purchases and get acquainted with the offer anywhere, anytime and in a manner consistent with their individual preferences.

Data as the engine driving the omnichannel strategy

We already know that today customer expects comfort and does not want to be limited in any way. Organisations choose strategic goals that enable creating a coherent brand image and provide customers with positive experiences. However, a question arises as to how the companies can know what the potential customers expect from them; what do they require from the channels they are given access to, and what needs to happen to make them loyal and return more willingly. The answer is simple – organisations should collect and process consumer data. These can be socio-demographic, psychographic, economic, geographic and other data that allow better understanding of recipients. If you are able to isolate repetitive patterns from the collected information, then you can create customer personas on this basis. With them you can much faster and more accurately determine, e.g. size, location, characteristics, lifestyles, expectations of target groups, and in the next step – select or modify elements of the customer journey.

The majority of businesses ”produce” a huge amount of data that cannot always be combined or arranged in a logical way. In addition, due to the lack of dedicated collecting or analysing programs, or their poor configuration/disintegration, the key information gets lost. Due to this, it gets problematic to, e.g.:

  • connect the customer to the channel they use most often;
  • link the customer to the device they are using;
  • recommend adequate products/services;
  • offer personalised advertising communication or send possibly interesting messages;
  • standardise user profiles within online/offline channels and create purchase history, habits and shopping patterns,
  • ensure the security of information scattered throughout the communication channels in which different legal and technical security measures are applied.

Brands should undertake activities aimed at central integration of communication channels, so that the collected data is protected, standardised, and provide an opportunity to learn about the habits of consumers.

Benefits resulting from implementation of omnichannel

The omnichannel strategy applies to the entire organisation and its members, from the IT department to the marketing and sales department. This transformation is a long-term investment in the business and technological infrastructure of the company. Every person employed by or related to the organization has to be involved in the process, so that it can consistently implement the assumptions made. In addition, you should closely watch the competition and the market, and show great flexibility when you notice other organizations' manoeuvres that are alarming from the marketing point of view. Despite everything, the work done for implementing omnichannel brings measurable benefits, primarily:

  • managing organisation information becomes easier;
  • editing information within offline/online channels is automatic;
  • the range of recipients increases. It is possible to reach customers with different preferences by providing numerous communication channels;
  • the sales offer is included in various communication channels, which increases the accessibility of the brand and ensures customers' comfort;
  • the number of complaints and unnecessary costs for the consumer is reduced;
  • speed, flexibility and order are introduced to the organisation.

People are mobile and will constantly change the way of communicating with the brand, depending on their preferences. Therefore, if you want to avoid misunderstandings between the brand and the customer, implementing the omnichannel strategy for the company's operations is a very good solution. You not only provide consumers with many attractive channels (in accordance with multichannel), but integrate them and focus on providing positive experiences through them.

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